SHYMKENT, Kazakhstan -- A court in Kazakhstan’s southern city of Shymkent has handed lengthy prison terms to 12 of 16 military officers and Defense Ministry officials on trial in the high-profile case of deadly ammunition warehouse blasts in 2019.
The Shymkent Garrison military court on July 26 sentenced 12 defendants to prison terms of between four years and 10 years, while handing suspended sentences to four other defendants after finding all of them guilty of negligence and violation of regulations for the storage of ammunition.
All 16 defendants had pleaded not guilty.
The case was launched after blasts at an ammunition depot in June 2019 claimed four lives and injured dozens of residents in the town of Arys, 67 kilometers west of Shymkent, the third-largest city in the Central Asian nation.
The trial first began in June 2020 but was halted in January after the court returned the case to investigators, citing "irregularities." The proceedings then resumed in April.
Some 35,000 residents of the town fled their homes for Shymkent and nearby towns, returning days later after authorities lifted a state of emergency.
Kazakh officials said that 85 percent of the town's buildings, mainly private houses, had been damaged by heavy smoke, shock waves, and flying debris.
The government has promised to rebuild the houses, but many residents have complained that the rebuilding efforts have been too slow and promised state financial allowances were never provided.
After the blasts, hundreds of people rallied in Shymkent and blocked a major road demanding to be relocated permanently because they were afraid to go back, since the blasts were just the latest in a series of explosions to hit the depot since 2009.