Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kazakstan: Duvanov Defiant

Convicted journalist continues to fight for full acquittal.
By Galima Bukharbaeva

Sergey Duvanov during the meeting with journalists.

Convicted journalist Sergei Duvanov has sworn to continue his fight for full acquittal – and has warned the Kazakstan authorities that they will not break his spirit.


The human rights campaigner was sentenced to three and half years imprisonment on rape charges in January 2003, in what is generally believed to have been a politically motivated case.


Under the Kazak criminal code, Duvanov is allowed to serve the remaining part of his sentence at his home and continue his work for the Kazakstan International Bureau for Human Rights, KIBHR.


His release from a prison camp on December 29 received little publicity within Kazakstan, with only one television channel broadcasting silent images of Duvanov leaving the compound. It took a further two weeks before he was allowed to reside at home; in the interim he was held in a low-security facility used for convicts serving the latter part of their sentences.


Both he and his lawyer Yevgeny Zhovtis – who is also his boss at the KIBHR – stress that he has not been freed or pardoned by the authorities, and that the fight for full exoneration will go on.


“I remain convicted and I am still serving my sentence. The only thing that has changed is the form of punishment,” Duvanov told IWPR.


Last week, the newspaper Assandi Times published one of Duvanov’s articles in its opinion section. The text alleged that Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev is suppressing democracy and freedom of the press in order to stay in power.


“Democracy is a headache for Nazarbaev, because it seriously threatens his monopoly of power,” Duvanov’s article claimed.


“During my time behind bars I wrote more, not less. I am 50 years old, and at that age you can’t force a man to change his principles, nor can you break him down.”


Alimzhan Uzurov, head of operations at the Criminal Executive System Committee told IWPR that Duvanov had been granted the right to live in his own home because of good behaviour and supporting references.


Still regarded as a prisoner of the Kazak state, Duvanov will not be allowed to leave the city of Almaty where he resides. He will also need to register with the prison authorities once a week and give part of his salary to the state.


The rules also forbid him from appearing in public - by attending meetings or even going to a restaurant – although the law is not clear on what constitutes a public place.


In spite of these restrictions, Zhovtis regards the decision to let Duvanov live at home as a “positive and politically farsighted move”, as the authorities could have chosen to deny the journalist his rights.


Duvanov has always maintained his innocence, and his supporters have long claimed that the charges were fabricated by the authorities in response to a series of outspoken articles and investigative reports the journalist had written over the previous year – with particular reference to an article titled “Silence of the Lambs”, which looked into allegations of corruption at the highest levels of Kazak political life.


International legal experts who looked into the case on behalf of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded that the case against the journalist was not proven convincingly and that some evidence was fabricated.


Duvanov himself has no doubt that this was the case. “Shortly after my arrest, my friends and I were trying to guess what [the authorities] would charge me with,” he said.


“We thought they would arrange a car crash or plant drugs on me, but I never imagined it would be a rape charge. The authorities didn’t just want to get rid of me - they wanted to ruin my reputation as well,” he alleged.


By July 2004, Duvanov will have served half his prison term and will be entitled to release on probation – if he stays out of trouble with the law until that time.


The journalists now expects to return to his office at KIBHR where he will continue to publish a human rights bulletin. He will also continue working as a journalist writing articles.


In the meantime, Zhovtis will continue to push for an acquittal so that Duvanov’s name can be cleared.


Galima Bukharbaeva is an IWPR project director based in Kazakstan.