Tuesday, March 27, 2012 -
Angry relatives and supporters of 37 people accused of participating in deadly riots in the Kazakh oil town of Zhanaozen stormed the courtroom at the start of the trial Tuesday.
The defendants are on trial for involvement in clashes against police on December 16, 2011 that led to the deaths of at least 14 people in the small town located in the western Kazakh province of Mangistau.
Police say they were forced to defend themselves when attacked, but witnesses said police indiscriminately shot at the unarmed protesters. Video footage was posted online supporting eyewitness accounts, but the prosecutor General’s office said police acted within the law.
It was the worst public disorder seen in Central Asia’s largest country in two decades of independence.
The defendants face charges of organizing mass disorder, attacking police, robbery and arson.
Hundreds of people on Tuesday attempted to force their way into the small makeshift court room in the provincial capital city Aqtau, 90 miles west of Zhanaozen, to follow the proceedings.
But the judge postponed proceedings for several hours when a juvenile defendant failed to turn up for the trial.
The proceedings will be open to relatives of the accused and dead, as well as representatives of rights organizations.
"All the necessary conditions and additional measures have been taken to provide transparency of the judicial process," the Reuters news agency reported Oksana Peters, spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, as telling reporters in the capital Astana.
The brother of one defendant rejected the charges of those accused of crimes.
“These people are innocent,” Reuters quoted Amantai Zhaumitbai, whose brother is among the accused.
“Why are the Kazakh authorities sitting up there on high? Why did they let this happen?” he said.
Human Rights Watch on Monday called for a “scrupulously fair” trial and noted it earlier asked the Prosecutor-General to open investigations into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees at the hands of police.
“Ensuring a fair trial means that any torture allegations should be fully investigated,” HRW said in a statement.