Kazakhstan court jails 13 over Zhanaozen riots

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Defendants in court during the riot case, June 4 2012Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The court tried 37 people altogether and handed custodial sentences to 13 oil workers

A court in Kazakhstan has jailed 13 people for their role in deadly riots last December in the remote desert oil town of Zhanaozen.

Thirty-seven defendants, mostly oil workers, were tried after seven months of industrial action ended in rioting.

At least 15 people were killed in the unrest and more than 100 injured.

The violence in Zhanaozen was the worst unrest seen in Kazakhstan since its independence from the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago.

The 13 defendants were given sentences of up to seven years; 16 others received conditional sentences and the remaining defendants were either given amnesties or acquitted.

The hearings were conducted at a youth centre that had been turned into a makeshift courtroom in the Caspian port city of Aktau, about 150km (96 miles) west of Zhanaozen.

'Bottles thrown'

The BBC's Central Asia correspondent Rayhan Demytrie says the scenes in the courtroom where chaotic.

Relatives of the defendants reportedly threw plastic bottles at the judge, amid claims those accused were tortured during the investigation.

Five policemen tried separately for their role in the violence were jailed last week for up to seven years for abuse of power.

Witnesses say that police fired on and beat unarmed protesters, leading to the deaths of at least 15 people.

Security officials maintain they were acting in self defence.

The workers had been striking to demanding better pay and conditions, but the oil company responded by sacking them.

Correspondents say the violence has tarnished the country's image of stability, which has been carefully cultivated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev over the past two decades.

Kazakhstan is Central Asia's largest economy and oil producer.