The decision issued by the court of appeals shocked Kazakhstan’s Dungan community: four pogromists who participated in arson and looting were released from the courtroom (members of the Dungan community said that no compensation was ordered for the tremendous damages caused and that that matter is being reviewed in civil court). Their five-year prison terms were replaced with suspended sentences. Meanwhile, three Dungans sentenced to the same term in prison were not granted leniency, even though they were forced to defend themselves against the pogromists and protect their families.
One of them, Ismar Khizhin, said in his final plea: “I have already spent a year in the pretrial detention center during the investigation and the trial, and I understand how difficult it is to be in custody. I beg you not to deprive me of liberty. I have parents and five minor children. They are waiting for me every day and asking: “When will you come home?” And I tell them: “Soon, soon.”
The appeals court reduced the sentence of another Dungan, Erse Daurov, from 16 years to 10 years. He was charged with shooting at police officers, even though his lawyer presented evidence that this was technically impossible. In his final plea, Ersa Daurov said:
“…we had one goal – to protect the lives of our family members. I feared for my life and their lives that day. And that was why I left my home. Your Honor, I did not have weapons, and I didn’t shoot. I am prepared to be punished for what I did, but I did not shoot. I beg you to adopt a just decision in my case.”
Both the press and the attorneys complained about how the trial was organized: Journalists were not told when the hearings would be held, so many of them were not able to arrive on time; the internet connection was not working properly and the sound was poor; and the attorneys were searched every time they entered court.
The Dungans’ defense attorneys are committed to fighting for justice until the end, even if their clients’ sentences were relatively light. Attorney Bolot Omarov, whose clients received suspended sentences, said that he was prepared to argue for their innocence in higher courts. He is convinced that they stood up to the pogromists without going beyond self-defense and that they were in fact performing the work of the police, who were not able to manage the crowd of attackers.
The court showed no leniency for Shchimar Sanguy, who was charged with killing a pogromist – his sentence of 16.5 years in prison was upheld. Among other things, the charges relied on the testimony of another defendant, who confessed that he had framed Sanguy under pressure from investigators. Sanguy’s mother and wife both died during the investigation and trial, and his emotional final plea made a deep impression on everyone who followed the trial:
“Your Honor, the country that I loved and that I was prepared to die for is making me into a murderer today. Your Honor, why should I answer for something I did not do? What is the investigation scared of? Show me the video that was allegedly recorded of me at the gas station. There isn’t one! I said that I wasn’t afraid of this video – but there isn’t one! Show me the search of my house, where the pitchforks are recorded – there isn’t one! And this is the main piece of evidence against me. Why is the investigation afraid to show it?… I have spent the entire trial proving that I was not at the scene of the crime. A sentence cannot be based on guesswork…. I was not there. One death is the sorrow of the entire Kazakh people, of which I am one. But I had no involvement in this killing. So I beg the court not to betray me to the untruths and close the case… My family believes in you, they pray every day that you will take the right path. I have been in prison for a year. I have written a lot, read a lot in Russian and Kazakh, I have improved my knowledge a bit. I didn’t know Kazakh or Russian well before my arrest, but I am learning. I was taught in the Dungan language, thought in the Dungan language, communicated in the Dungan language, so I don’t read Russian well because all my thoughts are in the Dungan language. The investigator took advantage of our ignorance. I have been a farmer my entire life, I have only held shovels, hoes, and pitchforks, not books. And it is hard for me to understand why I am sitting on the defendant’s bench. A fair sentence is in your hands. All the people and I are expecting this.”
Attorney Aliya Zhamanbayeva continues to insist on Sanguy’s innocence, pointing to inconsistencies in expert reports and to the fact that the victim’s wounds do not match the weapon supposedly used in the crime. Ignored by the court, she is now publicizing her arguments in the hope that higher courts will take them into consideration. She called the situation with the court a “corporate order,” where the investigation and the prosecution cannot admit their mistakes and acquit the defendant.
Khusey Daurov, leader of the Dungan association in Kazakhstan, was sharply critical of the outcome of the trial:
That’s the kind of court we have and the kind of justice we have in Korday and Jambyl… Most of the criminals and bandits who organized the greatest tragedy in our country’s history, who looted and set fire to our peaceful villages, have gone unpunished or been acquitted. Is this not a signal to bandits and criminals that they can rob, kill, and burn down other villages and homes without being punished? What are we supposed to do? Appeal to the Supreme Court? Or to international courts? Or to President Tokayev, the guarantor of the Constitution, who promised that the criminals would be punished and that damages would be paid?… Does this sentence correspond to the president’s words and message? Will this sentence promote peace and harmony in Kazakhstan?”
It is encouraging that the Kazakh government has recently professed its commitment to human rights: This includes its application for membership on the Human Rights Council for 2022 2024; the new position of Special Representative to the President of Kazakhstan on International Cooperation; the recent official visit of this special representative, who is named Erzhan Kazykhanov, to Geneva and his meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; and a plan of high priority measures in the area of human rights, which was approved on June 11, 2021. Unfortunately, this plan does not include the topic of ethnic relations, which shows that problems related to ethnic discrimination go unrecognized. However, tragic events like the Korday pogrom demand a proper response from the Kazakh government and impartiality and consistency from law enforcement and investigative agencies and the courts.
The trial concerning the events in Korday is cause for comparison with another trial that recently concluded in Russia. This was a trial against Roma people who were prosecuted for a brawl and the subsequent death of a person in Chemodanovka (Penza Oblast). This situation is very similar to the one in Korday: an everyday dispute that was not properly investigated amidst general xenophobia snowballed into an ethnic clash that ended with hundreds of Roma residents fleeing the village. However, both the investigation and the sentence were even more one-sided in this case than in Kazakhstan: While some of the pogromists who attacked the Dungan village were identified and prosecuted (43 of the 57 defendants were pogromists and the remaining 14 were Dungan people who were defending themselves), only Roma people were prosecuted and then sentenced for the brawl in Chemodanovka. Twenty-eight people have spent over two years – during a pandemic! – in the terrible conditions of a pretrial detention center. As a result, one was acquitted and 25 were released from the courtroom for time served. Pavel Yanenko and Nikolay Yurchenko were sentenced to the longest terms – seven and 10 years, respectively. The latter said that he confessed under torture; other people named in the case also mentioned torture, and in March of this year, all 28 people went on a hunger strike. The UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination sent an inquiry about this to the Russian government. But the statements about torture were of the fact that Roma people were also injured in the brawl were never investigated. As a Novaya Gazeta journalist wrote, the “public got what it was waiting for.” This is also a type of “corporate order”: The court’s sentence became a celebration of widespread xenophobia.