In the coming days the final verdict is expected to be pronounced by the court in the town of Taraz, in Southern Kazakhstan, in the high-profile case concerning pogroms of the Dungan villages of Masanchi, Bular Batyr and Aukhatty, which had taken place more than a year ago, on February 7-8, 2020. According to official reports, as a result of the pogroms, ten ethnic Dungans and one ethnic Kazakh had been killed, hundreds of people had been injured, the cost of destroyed and damaged property belonging to the Dungans (including houses, outbuildings, trading facilities, vehicles) had amounted to several millions of dollars. Thousands of ethnic Dungans had been forced to leave their homes and flee to the neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
There were a total of 51 people put on trial, fourteen of whom were ethnic Dungans, who had defended their families and property. They were charged under Article 272 (rioting) and Article 99 (murder) of the Kazakhstan’s penal code. Earlier, the state prosecutor had asked for sentences ranging from 5 to 18 years of imprisonment for the accused Dungans, while he had asked suspended sentences of 2-5 years for the participants in the pogrom, which had caused outrage in the Dungan community. Earlier, Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” already indicated that the inter-ethnic nature of the conflict had not been recognized by the authorities of Kazakhstan and that there was an obvious accusatory bias against the ethnic Dungans.
The trial is coming to an end, and the defendants have pronounced their last word. In court, the pogromists asked for forgiveness, while the Dungans called the court for mercy and expressed their readiness for reconciliation. At the same time, the accused Dungans insisted on their innocence and declared that pressure had been exerted on them during the investigation.
The court hearings had been covered by the media only very sparingly and, despite the fact that the anti-Dungan pogrom had become the largest inter-ethnic clash in Kazakhstan in recent years, it did not have proper public resonance in Kazakh society. ADC “Memorial” publishes complete transcribed speeches of the accused Dungans with their last words (audio recording are available in the public domain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=G9GeLVMekzE&feature=youtu.be). We still hope for a fair verdict of the court.
Esteemed court, first of all, I fully support my lawyers, and secondly, I also agree with numerous other lawyers, who had stated that the law enforcement agencies had failed to do their job. As the head of our state, Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, said, if in peaceful time the people of Kazakhstan did not feel safe and sound, then this was a challenge to our state. Law enforcement agencies must prove in practice, and not only verbally, that every citizen feels safe and secure in his native country. Your Honour, the tragedy that had taken place, not only had inflicted mental and moral wounds on us, but also had shaken the economy and the authority of our country in the face of investors and neighboring countries.
Starting from the court marshalls and up to you, Your Honour, each of you, each of us, came to their work, to earn money for our families, for our children, so that they would be proud of us, so that we can make their dreams come true. We are always heroes for them. We teach them from childhood that the good always triumphs over the evil, that our sons should not deceive others, daugthers should not steal, that they should speak the truth. Your Honour, we, ethnic Dungan people, are now sitting in the dock. But we had come out simply to keep our families alive. Children do not understand: when people gather, they think that this is a holiday. But how can you explain to them that on this day they were seeing their father off for his last journey? That he will never return again? Let us say that there was rape, that an elderly man was beaten, that the traffic policemen were beaten [incidents involving the Dungans prior to the 7-8 February 2020 conflict – ed.]. But what did this man who had died have to do with it? He only came out to protect his family. How can you explain to a girl that her father had come out to protect her and was then killed?
This tragedy has already become history. It is up to you, Your Honour, to put an end to this story. I hope you can make a fair decision. It is only this that we, the defendants, are waiting for, but also our families and the people. All the peoples of Kazakhstan.
Esteemed court, dear participants in the trial. Esteemed court, as you know, Themis is the generally recognized symbol of justice, the personification of the law, fair for all and impartial. This is expressed in her attributes – she is blindfolded, a sword and scales in her hands. The scales are an ancient symbol of justice. On the scales of justice, guilt and innocence are being weighed. The final decision depends on which side of the scales outweighs the other. I ask the court to show maximum objectivity, impartiality, leniency and humanity. I ask you to place on one side of the scales those acts, the evil that was inflicted upon the residents of the affected villages on February 7-8, 2020, and on the other side, to place the acts that came specifically from me, as well as from other ethnic Dungans, who are sitting on the bench among the defendants, and make a fair, balanced decision. And most importantly, I ask you not to deprive me of my liberty.
Esteemed court, it is symbolic and not without reason that the end of our case, which originated in the tragic events of February 7-8, 2020 in the villages of Masanchi, Bulat Batyr and Aukhatty, has coincided with the holy and revered month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month of change for the better for everyone in this courtroom. This month is an opportunity to get rid of sins and improve one’s temper. Ramadan is a month of fasting, mercy and forgiveness. Let us forgive everyone who has done us any harm by word or deed. It is proceeding from this that I ask the court for this, and I hope that my fellow Dungans will be in solidarity with me and support me. For more than a year, the parents, children, and the wives of the defendants have been suffering, and they all look forward to returning to their homes. A lot has happened over the last year. Several of the defendants’ parents died, including my own father. The wife of the defendant Mr. Zhunusov has died. I express my sincere condolences to all. I believe and hope that during this time many of the defendants realized their mistakes and will not commit them again. We, all the defendants in the case, are citizens of Kazakhstan, and we will live under one peaceful sky in future. Therefore, it is impossible to keep and hold bad feelings against each other. It is necessary to make the first step. We forgive our Kazakh brothers, who are in the dock, and we ask the court to show maximum leniency and humanity in relation to persons accidentally involved in this event, when determining the punishment for them. I am certain that such a decision in this holy month will serve as a factor in reconciliation and a peaceful future for the inhabitants of the entire Kordai region. We are confident that a wise, balanced and fair decision of the court will bring peace, harmony and stability for the whole of Kazakhstan. Let us not forget that according to our fundamental law, the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, we are all the people of Kazakhstan, united by a common historical destiny.
Esteemed court, first of all, I would like to support Mr. Schinkhu – my fellow brother, who had been, just like myself, prosecuted for participation in mass riots, and I support his proposal to forgive the accused Kazakhs and all the defendants, including me, during the holy month of Ramadan. I ask you to take the most fair and humane decision possible within the framework of the law.
As for me personally, it has been established by the materials of this case that my family and I had suffered, had practically lost our means of survival, and that this material damage was not compensated. Everything what my father was building, what I was building, was destroyed in just 3 or 4 hours. Due to my detention, we have not gone to work in the field for two years, while this had been the source of our income. I do not know what my family was to blame for, and who could blame us, and neither do I know why this had been done to us. I did not set fire, I did not kill, I did not rob, I did not steal, and neither myself, nor my family had anything to do with all the events that happened to the old man and the police [incidents involving ethnic Dungans prior to the pogroms – ed.]. I do not know why they did this to us and why today I am still in the dock. The confinement was a great test for both me and my family, as I had been the only breadwinner in my family. Today, Your Honour, you have been given the right to decide the fate of people. The fate of the families of all the defendants depends upon your decision now, the fate of my children depends on your decision. After all, I had not done what I was charged with. We have been waiting for this day for over a year, and today it has come – in the holy month of Ramadan, when all Muslims are encouraged to do good deeds, a month of forgiveness. On this occasion, I want to cite one verse from the Koran: ‘Allah created death and life only in order to test people, what deeds they will engage in’. Your Honor, today you decide our destinies. And I ask you to justify me.
Esteemed court, in the holy month of Ramadan, I support the appeal of my fellow villager Mr. Schinkhu that we should not continue to dwell in the evil and grief that what had happened in our villages. Life goes on for all of us, and mutual forgiveness of all people is needed, so that this does not happen again in future.
Your Honour, the long-awaited moment has come – the completion of this publicized and tragic case, of your hard and painstaking work. During this long trial, you had the possibility of discovering that there was no corpus delicti against me. Over the last year, my parents and the residents of these villages had to endure a lot. Many sleepless nights, a lot of tears shed, the broken nerves… While I was under arrest, I thought about many things: about my parents and how they coped there without me. My mother prays for me in each of her prayers, and hopes that I will be home again, next to her, together with my father. My bride – will she still wait for me? During this time, faith in the justice of our court gave me the strength to survive all this. I sincerely put my faith in your just decision. I beg you not to deprive me of my liberty and give me the opportunity to return to my mother, to build a family, to have children. My peers already have 2 or 3 children. Once again I ask you: do not imprison me in this holy month of Ramadan.
Esteemed court, I live in Masanchi, I am married, I have two small children dependent on me and the wife of my late brother and their young children are also under my guardianship, since after the death of my brother they had lived with my family. Even before the arrest, maintaining my brother’s family fell entirely on my shoulders. Before the events of February 7, our family had a small business, but we lost it all. My family found itself in a difficult financial situation as nothing was restored. I ask you not to deprive me of the opportunity to help my family. The last time I called my family, my late brother’s eldest son asked: “Dad, why haven’t you been coming back for so long? We miss you. Or do you no longer love us and want to leave us, like our first father?” I felt uneasy since then. How can I explain to him, to a child, that I found myself in such a position by defending them? I couldn’t find the proper words. He also said that his grandmother has been crying every day. Esteemed court, my mother contracted diabetes as she, too, suffered the tragic loss of my brother. I am very worried about her health. I realized a lot over the last year, during the time spent in custody, and this time was not spent in vain. I learned a lesson and will not make such mistakes in future. I will always think well about the consequences of rash decisions. Once again, I earnestly ask you not to deprive me of my freedom.
Several of the defendants stressed in their last words that they did not agree with the charges brought against them. Schimar Sangui, accused of murder, spoke with particular emotion:
Esteemed court, the country that I loved and for which I was ready to give my life, today makes me a murderer. Your Honour, why should I be responsible for what I had not done? What is the investigation afraid of? Show us the video where I was allegedly captured at the gas station. It does not exist! I had said previously that I was not afraid of this, but this video does not even exist! Show me the video of the search of my house, where my pitchfork was captured – this does not exist either! But this was the main proof that they used against me. Why is the investigation afraid to show it? There is no video of confiscation of evidence – where is it? Why does everything disappear as if by somebody’s will? Esteemed court, is this a court or is this a farce? There is no video of the confrontation with Yunkhu Cheshanlo, where he did not say a word, where in fact we both did not say anything. Why do they put such words in my mouth, that of an honest man, that I had killed people there? These words make my hair stand on end, and those who wrote it – they had neither shame nor conscience. What is the investigation afraid of? Present at least one witness, who could testify that I had done something there. None of the witnesses, including Yunkhu Cheshanlo, had described my actions as “striking with a pitchfork in different parts of the body of the victim Abdykarim”. During the whole of investigation I was trying to prove that I had not been at the scene of the crime. The verdict cannot be built on guesswork. If, as follows from the testimony of Yunkhu Cheshanlo, I had been at the scene of the crime and had stood there with a pitchfork, then no one except me could have done that? Witness “P-v” testified that he had heard the words “Allah Akbar” before the car collision, and “K-a” testified that after the collision several people were shouting “Allah Akbar”. The same testimony was given by “Kh. S-v”. But that means “Allah Akbar” was shouted by more than one person. And it is impossible to claim that I called for riots. I was not there. Death of one person is the grief of the entire Kazakh people, and I also join in it. But I was not involved in this murder. Therefore, I ask the court not to put me through the systemic meat grinder and urge you not to close your eyes on this and close the case in such a way. You, as a judge, are now deciding my fate, whether I indeed did hit the victim Abdykarim or not. My family trusts you, prays every day that you are on the right path. I have been in prison for a year now. I have read a lot in Russian and Kazakh, have written a lot, I have improved my knowledge a little. Before my arrest, I did not know Kazakh and Russian well, but I was learning in the process. I had always studied in Dungan language, I thought in Dungan, I conveyed my thoughts in Dungan, so I had read poorly in Russian, since all my thoughts were in Dungan. The investigators took advantage of our ignorance, since all my life I was a peasant – in my hands I held only a shovel, a hoe and pitchfork, but not a book. And it’s hard for me to understand why I’m sitting in the dock. It is in your hands to make a fair judgment. I and everyone else, all our people are waiting for this.
In his last speech, Yunkhu Cheshanlo stated that, under pressure from the investigation, he had given false testimony against Sangui Schimar:
Mr. Prosecutor, it is very painful for me to tell all this now. Firstly, I would like to apologize to the accused Schimar Sangui for giving false testimony against him. This is all because of the investigators. They threatened my children. Previously I already said in the trial how they frightened me, how they made me say all this. Now I sincerely want to apologize to Schimar Sangui. I’m sorry, my brother. I have nothing more to add.
Your Honour, our trial is over. I am charged under Article 272 and Article 99. Under Article 272, Section 2, I partially admit my guilt. Yes, I stood in the crowd, among the Dungans, and threw stones. I didn’t set fire to houses, I didn’t use firearms. And under Article 99, Section 2, I do not fully admit my guilt, since I did not commit this act. I believe that this is unfair on the part of the state prosecution: they asked for 15.5 years of imprisonment because of the words of one person, Islam Kimurov, and these words that he had said, they were not true. He was afraid for himself. I didn’t see the driver of the white Audi and I didn’t beat him. I ask you to acquit me on charges under Article 99, Section 2. During the investigative actions and the judicial investigation, I have been in custody for a year, and I understand how difficult it is to be in custody. I ask you not to deprive me of my freedom. I have five minor children and elderly parents. They wait for me every day and ask: “When will you come home?” I tell them: “Soon, soon”. Your Honour, I ask you to acquit me under Article 99, Section 2. I hope you will make a wise and just decision. I do not doubt your professional attitude and I hope for your justice. Thank you.
Esteemed court, I fully support Mr. Schinkhu and Mr. Maurov. Let me explain why. Because we had one goal – to save the life of our families. That day I was very scared for my life and for the life of my family members. And that was the reason why I had left the house. Your Honour, I had no weapon, and I did not shoot. I am ready to be punished for what I have done, but I did not shoot. I ask you to make a fair decision regarding me.
Your Honour, I have nothing to do with the death of Abdykarim. I did not see either him or his Audi S4 car, because I had been in a different place. Your Honour, I am ready to be punished for what I did. Why should I be held accountable for a crime I didn’t commit? I partially admit my guilt under Article 272, but I do not admit my guilt under Article 99 at all. I didn’t do this. I hope for your fair decision. Your Honour, I ask you to make a fair decision, not related to imprisonment. Thank you.
Esteemed court, during the investigation, witness Mr. Abdurakhmanov testified that I had been in Bular Batyr and had stood near house No.122, and had thrown stones. But during the investigation it was proven that at that time there had been no ethnic Kazakhs near this house, I could not be there. If I had been there, I probably would have simply been killed. That’s all I wanted to say. I just ask you not to deprive me of my liberty.
Esteemed court, I have not harmed anyone. I had no intention of harming anyone. When passing your sentence, I ask you not to ignore the fact that I have four young children. I am a simple farmer, I have never violated the law of the Republic of Kazakhstan and I am not going to violate it in future. I ask you not to separate me from my family, to give me the opportunity to work so that my children are not in need, so that I can give them education, so that they become full-fledged citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan. I have nothing more to add.