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Kazakhstan court sentences oil workers up to seven years for December unrest

A court in Kazakhstan [official website] sentenced 13 out of 37 defendants to between three and seven years of imprisonment for their participation in unrest last December that resulted in at least 15 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The unrest occurred in a remote desert oil town of Zhanaozen when oil workers demanded higher pay and better conditions, but the oil company refused and responded by terminating their employment. Sixteen of the remaining defendants faced conditional sentences [BBC report] while five defendants were given amnesty and three were acquitted. During the trial, relatives of defendants threw bottles at the judge, claiming that the defendants were subject to torture during the investigation. Five police officers were sentenced for abuse of power for using excessive force and violence against defendants. Officials, however, claim that they acted out of self-defense.

Kazakhstan has been criticized for its failure to comply with international human rights standards. In April, 47 individuals were sentenced [JURIST report] to 15 years imprisonment for their involvement in terrorist attacks and financing extremist activities. However, the trial and information pertaining to it were not entirely accessible to the public, and the lack of transparency has raised concerns of possible human rights violations. In October, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website, in Kazakh; BBC profile] signed [JURIST report] into law a bill dissolving religious organizations and requiring re-registration. This new bill and its endorsement by the president drew a number of criticisms that the law unnecessarily limits the freedom of religion. The president's signing came after the country's parliament approved [JURIST report] the bill few weeks earlier. In April of last year, the president also fired [JURIST report] six supreme court justices for corruption.

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