Kazakh Protest Leader In Restive Town Jailed On Hooliganism Charge

ZHANAOZEN, Kazakhstan -- A court in the southwestern Kazakh town of Zhanaozen has sentenced the leader of protests staged by jobless youths earlier this year to five years in prison for hooliganism.

Erzhan Elshibaev was found guilty of inflicting bodily harm in a brawl in 2017 that was not related to the protests. Elshibaev and his supporters had rejected the charges, saying they were politically motivated and aimed at ensuring he wouldn't lead any further protests.

Judge Bauyrzhan Toqbaev had to leave the courtroom immediately after pronouncing the sentence as police intervened to keep Elshibaev's supporters away. Dozens of people were briefly detained.

Elshibaev was one of the leaders of several protest rallies in February and March. The protests were staged by residents in the oil industry town who were demanding jobs.

Kazakh authorities are very sensitive to any dissent or protests in the restive town, where police fatally shot at least 16 people while repressing protests by oil workers in December 2011.