QARAGHANDY, Kazakhstan -- Two men in the central Kazakh city of Qaraghandy are being tried on charges of inciting ethnic and religious hatred.
Uali Aliasqarov, 66, and Mikhail Tkachyov, 28, pleaded not guilty as their trial got under way on November 29.
Investigators say the defendants are members of a Russia-based semi-religious group called the Union of Co-Creators of the Holy Russia. Its acronym is SSSR, the same as the Russian variant of U.S.S.R.
According to the investigators, Aliasqarov and Tkachyov used the Internet and in-person gatherings to promote ideas that insulted and diminished representatives of an unnamed ethnic group.
Since 2014, amid heightened government concern sparked by Russia's interference in Ukraine, several Kazakh citizens have been convicted of inciting ethnic hatred or separatism in Internet posts.
Russia occupied the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and fomented separatism in eastern Ukraine, where it has backed separatists in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people since that April.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to justify Moscow's interference in part by citing what he said were concerns about the life, security, and rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine.
Those developments, as well as calls for the creation of a "Russian World" linking areas with large Russian-speaking populations, sparked concerns that Moscow might set its sights on the swath of northern Kazakhstan along the border with Russia.