Kazakstan: Fury at Duvanov's Failed Appeal

Well-known journalist lost his final bid to clear his name, but his friends are refusing to let the matter drop.

Kazakstan: Fury at Duvanov's Failed Appeal

Well-known journalist lost his final bid to clear his name, but his friends are refusing to let the matter drop.

Supporters of the well-known Kazak journalist and opposition activist Sergei Duvanov have vowed to continue their battle to clear his name after an appeal court upheld his three-year prison sentence.

And his friends are up in arms over the court's decision to convict him of more serious offence than the one he was originally found guilt of.

The prosecution has also voiced its anger over the March 11 ruling, and a fierce argument is now underway between both camps.

Rather than commuting Duvanov's conviction for rape - which his supporters claim was unfounded and politically motivated - the appeal court found him guilty of the more serious charge of raping an underage girl.

But the judges said that Duvanov's good references and clean record led them to let the original sentence of three years' imprisonment stand.

The journalist's lawyer, leading human rights activist Evgeny Zhovtis, maintained his client's innocence. "We don't agree that the court is right. Duvanov's guilt has not been proved and so he is being illegally imprisoned," he said.

The prosecution also challenged the ruling, saying that he should have received a bigger prison sentence.

Duvanov's supporters are furious with the way the authorities went about investigating the journalist, saying the process was biased and flawed.

"We are preparing documents for the Guinness Book of Records, because not a single country on earth has yet allowed over 80 procedural violations during one inquiry," said political scientist Nurbulat Masanov, a leading member of Duvanov's defence, with more than a touch of sarcasm.

"Also, we - his lawyers and public supporters - were constantly followed, our telephone calls were listened in to quite openly, our e-mail was read, and the wheels on our cars were even tampered with," claimed Zhovtis.

Additionally, there is a great deal of controversy over the fact that international observers were not admitted to the court hearing in Taldykorgan.

"We travelled from the Netherlands, but we were not admitted to the court. I think that they could have allowed us to be present, especially as Kazakstan wants to be seen as a country which follows democratic norms," Ferdinand Feldbrutte, an observer from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told IWPR.

At the same time, both sides are unhappy with the coverage of the case by the national media, which fell into three categories. The first openly defamed Duvanov, calling him a "pervert". The second supported the defendant and attacked the plaintiffs and their lawyers. The third - the biggest - simply remained silent, fearing that coverage could cause problems for them.

Duvanov's supporters condemned those who did not speak out in defence of one of their own. "This case was a sort of maturity test for the Kazakstan media - and they did not pass," said Masanov, who blames President Nursultan Nazarbaev for Duvanov's prosecution, claiming he "personally controlled" the trial.

Public opinion, however, remains divided, with few able to say with complete certainty what their own stance is. "I don't even know who to believe. It seems as though Duvanov could not have committed such a horrible crime. But on the other hand, there's no smoke without fire. I'm at a loss. But I would very much like for him to vindicated," said Anastasiya Eryomina, a pensioner from Almaty, reflecting the views of many.

Erbol Jumagulov is an IWPR contributor in Almaty

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