Kazakstan: Opposition Journalist Accused of Rape

Outspoken reporter is arrested the day before he was due to travel to America to discuss human rights issues.

Kazakstan: Opposition Journalist Accused of Rape

Outspoken reporter is arrested the day before he was due to travel to America to discuss human rights issues.

The Kazak media and opposition have been shocked by the news that independent journalist Sergei Duvanov has been arrested and charged with raping a young girl.

Duvanov was arrested at his dacha in Kaskelen, near Almaty, on Monday, October 28 - just one day before he was due to fly to America to deliver a speech on Kazakstan's human rights situation to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The journalist, who was severely injured in a beating by three unknown assailants at the end of August, has denied the charges. "This is a really mean way to discredit me in the eyes of my western colleagues. Now the authorities are going to put me in jail to stop me from criticising them," he claimed.

Although Duvanov was arrested by interior ministry officers from Kaskelen and is being held in custody at the local remand prison, many suspect that the National Security Committee, NSC - the successor to the KGB - orchestrated his arrest.

"I think the secret services framed Duvanov, as the authorities have been trying to silence him for three years," Kazak political analyst Nurbulat Masanov told IWPR. "It was a well organised operation, and the NSC controls the prosecutor's offices, courts and certain media."

However, the NSC and the interior ministry both refused to comment when contacted by IWPR, claiming investigators had asked them not to release any details of the case.

The media was told at a National Press Club briefing that some of Duvanov's neighbours had requested to use his sauna on the night of October 27. An unidentified young girl was with them, who the journalist assumed was their friend.

When the group left, Duvanov used the sauna himself before drinking some tea, which he thought had a strange aftertaste to it. He then fell asleep, only to be woken by the police the following morning and informed that the girl had made an allegation of rape.

"I never have affairs with women I don't know," said Duvanov, who believes that his tea was spiked with a strong sedative.

The allegation has outraged Duvanov's colleagues. Rozlana Taukina, president of the Journalists in Distress foundation, told IWPR that there was "absolutely no doubt" in her mind that the reporter had been framed. "We will be pushing for an independent inquiry supervised by international human rights organisations," she said.

Duvanov has already received an offer of legal assistance from lawyer Vitaly Voronov - who recently defended the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan leaders Mukhtar Abliazov and Galymzhan Zhakianov, both of whom were jailed on corruption charges which the opposition claimed were politically motivated.

"I will defend Duvanov, and I will base my defence solely on fact. I am convinced of his innocence," said Voronov.

Yevgeny Zhovtis, director of the Kazak Bureau of Human Rights and Rule of Law, has also agreed to defend Duvanov, who edits a monthly bulletin for the organisation in partnership with IWPR.

Kazak analysts believe Duvanov's arrest is the latest in a series of government moves designed to scare the opposition into obedience. This is not the first time the journalist has been targeted by the authorities.

In July, President Nursultan Nazarbaev took him to court over an article titled "Silence of the Lambs", which was published on an independent website and alleged that members of the leader's circle were linked to illegal overseas bank accounts.

The official charge was that of "insulting the dignity and honour of the president", but the legal proceedings have since stalled. The reporter was later beaten up in the stairwell of his apartment.

Timur Jagiparov and Erbol Jumagulov are independent journalists in Almaty

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