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Dozens Jailed Over Deadly 2020 Ethnic Clashes In Kazakhstan

Defendants in the case are seen behind glass in the court in Taraz in December 2020 .

TARAZ, Kazakhstan -- A court in Kazakhstan's southern Zhambyl region has handed down sentences to 51 defendants in a case over deadly ethnic clashes that shocked the Central Asian country in February 2020.

The court on April 27 sentenced eight defendants to prison terms of between 15 and 20 years after finding them guilty of murder and taking part in mass disorder.

Another defendant was sentenced to 11 years in prison, one to seven years in prison, and seven men were sentenced to five years in prison each. One defendant was acquitted while the remainder were handed parole-like "freedom-limitation" sentences for periods of between two and six years.

The defendants, according to their roles in the clashes between Kazakhs and Kazakh citizens from the ethnic Dungan minority -- a Muslim group of Chinese origin -- were found guilty of various crimes including murder, organizing and participating in mass disorder, illegal arms and ammunition possession, robbery, separatism, threatening the lives of military personnel, armed mass disorder, and hooliganism.

The high-profile trial started in December and was held inside a detention center in the regional capital, Taraz.

The violence in the villages of Sortobe, Masanchi, Auqatty, and Bulan-Batyr that erupted in early February 2020 following a road-rage brawl left 11 people dead and dozens injured, including 19 police officers.

In September, seven ethnic Kazakhs were tried separately in the case and sentenced to prison terms ranging between three years and four years.

Four of them were released from prison in November after a military court in Almaty replaced their prison terms with freedom-limitation sentences.

In April 2020, an ethnic Dungan involved in the case was found guilty of hooliganism and inflicting bodily harm and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Another Dungan was handed a suspended prison sentence on the same charges.

More than 30 houses, 17 commercial buildings, and 47 vehicles were destroyed or damaged in the clashes, and more than 20,000 people, mostly Dungans, fled the villages where the violence erupted.

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 fired by the central government in the aftermath of the clashes.

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 1862-77, 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.

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