ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Kazakhstan’s Military Court has replaced prison terms for four men convicted for their roles in deadly ethnic clashes with parole-like restrictions known as freedom limitation.
The court said in a statement issued late on November 19 that it had concluded that Rustem Bezhibai, Erlan Buralqynov, Ulan Atambaev, and Almat Tleughaliev must be released immediately and their prison terms replaced by freedom limitation for the period of their initial sentences.
The men were sentenced in September to prison terms ranging from three to four years.
The court said it took the decision after hearing requests from plaintiffs “to mitigate the sentences, as well as taking into account the viewpoints of the prosecutors and lawyers and the roles of the convicted individuals” in the mass clashes between Kazakhs and Kazakh citizens from the ethnic Dungan minority — a Muslim group of Chinese origin, in the southern Zhambyl region in early-February.
The court upheld the sentences of three other men who were convicted in the case and sentenced to prison terms of between five years and eight years.
The seven men were sentenced on September 29 by the Military Court of the Almaty Garrison after being found guilty of taking part in the deadly clashes. Some of the defendants were also found guilty of theft.
The violence in the villages of Sortobe, Masanchi, Auqatty, and Bulan-Batyr, which erupted following a road-rage brawl, left 11 people dead and dozens injured, including 19 police officers.
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 villages where the violence erupted.
In April, an ethnic Dungan 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.
In all, more than 50 people were arrested following the deadly clashes. Further court cases are expected.
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 the Zhambyl region’s governor Asqar Myrzakhmetov and local police chief, were sacked by Kazakhstan’s 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,” supporting 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 1862-1877, 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.