MOSCOW (AP) – Prosecutors in Kazakhstan have characterized foreign correspondents as “evil” in an indictment accusing 37 residents of a western oil town of inciting and participating in mass unrest that led to at least 16 deaths.
The unrest in Zhanaozen in December came after a seven-month-long occupation of the main square by oil workers demanding higher salaries.
Among the correspondents named was an Associated Press reporter who spoke by telephone to people in Zhanaozen. He was not charged.
One of the 37 defendants, Roza Tuletayeva, told the AP she had seen at least five people killed when police opened fire on the crowd. At the time, officials were still denying reports of gunfire and insisting there were no deaths.
The indictment includes transcripts from intercepted mobile phone conversations between a Human Rights Watch researcher, journalists and Tuletayeva.
The Prosecutor General’s Office was unable immediately to explain why the indictment referred to the foreign journalists as “evil-doers.”
The disturbances in Zhanaozen began when city authorities attempted to hold a concert near the site of the workers’ sit-in. A confrontation with police descended into rioting in which dozens of offices and businesses were destroyed.
In the trial, which began in late March, prosecutors have argued the riots were planned in advance, possibly with the help of unnamed foreign elements.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has demanded that Kazakhstan suspend the trial, saying many defendants claim they were beaten and subject to other physical abuse while in custody.
Earlier this week, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a former Communist party boss who has led Kazakhstan for more than two decades, described his concerns over what he called the dangers posed by international media.
“The desire to use modern information technologies and influence political processes in certain countries is a threat,” he told the Russian state-controlled channel Rossiya-24.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)