More Than 50 People Go On Trial In Kazakhstan After Ethnic Clashes

By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

TARAZ, Kazakhstan -- More than 50 people have gone on trial in Kazakhstan's southern Zhambyl region after deadly ethnic clashes in February that shocked the Central Asian country.

Judge Aidar Zambaev began the trial inside a detention center located in the regional capital, Taraz, on December 3.

The defendants were charged with taking part in public disorder, the possession of illegal weapons, robbery, and issuing threats during the clashes between Kazakhs and Kazakh citizens from the ethnic Dungan minority, a Muslim group of Chinese origin.

Journalists were allowed to follow the hearing online.

The violence in the villages of Sortobe, Masanchi, Auqatty, and Bulan-Batyr that erupted in early February following a road-rage brawl left 11 people dead and dozens injured, including 19 police officers.

In September, seven ethnic Kazakhs were tried separately in the case and sentenced to prison terms ranging between three and four years.

Four of them were released from prison last month after a military court in Almaty replaced prison terms for them with parole-like restrictions known as freedom limitation.

Earlier in April, an ethnic Dungan involved in the case was found guilty of hooliganism and inflicting bodily harm and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Another Dungan was handed a suspended prison term on the same charges.

More than 30 houses, 17 commercial buildings, and 47 vehicles were destroyed or damaged in the ethnic clashes, and more than 20,000 people, mostly Dungans, fled the villages where the violence erupted.

Many of the Dungans who fled the violence ended up in the neighboring Kyrgyz region of Chui, where the majority of Central Asia's Dungans reside.

Kazakh officials said at the time that the majority of the displaced Dungans returned to Kazakhstan several days later.

Many senior regional officials, including Zhambyl region Governor Asqar Myrzakhmetov and the local police chief, were dismissed by the central government in the aftermath of the clashes.

Russia's Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center wrote in May that the investigations of the clashes were "not transparent and appeared to be one-sided" in favor of ethnic Kazakhs.

Dungans, also known as Hui, are Sunni Muslims who speak a dialect of Mandarin that also uses words and phrases borrowed from Arabic, Persian, and Turkic.

Their ancestors fled China in the late 19th century after the Chinese government's violent crackdown of the Dungan Revolt of 1862-77, and settled in Central Asia, then part of the Russian empire.

The total number of Dungans now living in former Soviet republics is about 120,000.

Most reside in Kyrgyzstan's northern region of Chui and Kazakhstan's neighboring region of Zhambyl.