Kazakstan: OSCE Calls for Duvanov Inquiry

Western officials cast doubt on conviction of opposition journalist for rape.

Kazakstan: OSCE Calls for Duvanov Inquiry

Western officials cast doubt on conviction of opposition journalist for rape.

Duvanov during at the demonstration in support of opposition leader, Galymzhan Zhakyanov, in Almaty in March 2002 (photo by Valery Khegai)
Duvanov during the demonstration in support of opposition leader, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, in Almaty in March 2002 (photo by Valery Khegai)
Duvanov at the same demonstration (photo by Valery Khegai)
Duvanov during at the same demonstration (photo by Valery Khegai)
Duvanov at the helm at a party after an IWPR event (photo by Dinara Makesheva)
Duvanov at the helm at a party after an IWPR event (photo by Dinara Makesheva)

International organisations are demanding an urgent review of the trial of Kazak journalist Sergei Duvanov jailed for three and a half years earlier this week.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders have all voiced concerns over the proceedings, in which the journalist was accused of raping an underage girl.

"The numerous procedural irregularities and the apparent lack of evidence in this case raise the concern that this trial may have been politically motivated," Freimut Duve, the OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media, told the press after sentence had been passed on January 28.

The OSCE sent observers to the three-week long closed-door trial to remind the authorities that the international community was keeping a close eye on proceedings - but this proved to be of little use.

The journalist, who edits the Kazak Human Rights Bulletin in partnership with IWPR, was arrested on October 28 - one day before he was due to fly to the United States to deliver a talk on Kazakstan's civil liberties record.

"The charge was fabricated, and no one doubts this," said well-known opposition figure and journalist Pyotr Svoik.

Steven Wagenseil, acting director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, also raised questions about the strength of the case against Duvanov. "The trial was seriously flawed and we call on the appeals court to review carefully the accusations against Duvanov as well as all allegations of procedural violations during the investigation and the trial," he said.

Duvanov has long protested his innocence, claiming the government simply wanted to put an end to his campaigning work.

During the last days of the trial, he refused to appoint new lawyers to replace a team who were earlier forced to abandon the case, claiming interference from the authorities.

He also refused to take part in the final stages in protest against "a lack of objectivity and one-sidedness" of the court proceedings.

The journalist's supporters - many of whom joined a group campaigning for his release - told IWPR that the authorities took measures to counter protests on the day of his sentencing.

Buses packed with Duvanov supporters were delayed by traffic police on the way to the town of Kaskelen, close to Almaty, where the trial was being held, and a rash of checkpoints sprang up.

The appearance in the courtroom of a tough interior ministry official in charge of public relations - who normally appears at points of conflict between the authorities and the opposition - also signalled that the government would not tolerate any show of dissent from supporters.

When the sentence was announced, police moved quickly to break up a demonstration outside the court, confiscating and destroying banners.

The director of the International Foundation to Protect Political Prisoners, Kazis Togubaev, political scientist Nurbulat Masanov and International Bureau for Human Rights worker Alexander Skryl were arrested and later charged with minor public order offences.

Duvanov's former lawyers later held a press conference, protesting his innocence and suggesting that the authorities had effectively pushed for his conviction. "I regard this trial as an incident when the judiciary has bowed down to the executive branch," defence counsel Mariya Pulman told the media.

"It's simply an outrage. A person has been jailed without any direct evidence. If the sentence remains in force, we have to admit unfortunately that Kazakstan now has another political prisoner."

On January 29, Duvanov celebrated his 50th birthday in prison. Analysts are now waiting to see if an appeal lodged by his lawyers - and the growing international pressure - will prompt the government to review the conviction of the journalist, named human rights activist of the year by the New York-based International League of Human Rights last month.

The current publicity being given to his case may boost his chances of release, but Duvanov himself does not believe that he will be amnestied.

In an open letter to the authorities following sentence, he wrote, "It is obvious that there is an underlying political motive in the case against me. As a result, I'm in jail. This won't silence me. If they want to do that, they'll probably just have to kill me.

"What has happened to me is the result of my critical articles of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his team. Now it is blindingly obvious that the main judge, and the person who ordered this trial, was the president himself."

Duvanov entered politics in the early Nineties, when he became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Kazakstan. In 1992, he founded one of the republic's first independent radio stations, Maks, and became a director of the independent news and analysis agency Poltion five years later.

In August 1999, he stood for parliament as a opposition Republican People's Party candidate, but was not elected as the party later decided to boycott the elections.

He has been working with the Kazakstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law since 2000. As well as editing its human rights bulletin, he has written for a number of independent and opposition websites, as well as being an IWPR contributor.

Erbol Jumagulov is an independent journalist in Almaty

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