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Central Asia Report: January 30, 2003

30 January 2003, Volume 3, Number 5

INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST FOUND GUILTY OF RAPE FOLLOWING TRIAL MARRED BY IRREGULARITIES. On 28 January the Karasay District Court, Almaty Oblast, found opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov guilty of the statutory rape of an underage girl, and sentenced him to 3 1/2 years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). The verdict pleased nobody: the prosecution said the jail term was too short, Duvanov's defenders howled that the whole trial was a travesty of justice, and both sides said they would appeal.

Duvanov, who edited a weekly human rights bulletin, and has reported extensively on secret Swiss bank accounts allegedly held by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, was arrested last October at his dacha outside the city of Almaty. According to Duvanov, he passed out there one evening after drinking drugged tea prepared by a 14-year-old girl who was introduced to him by his neighbors and used his sauna. He was woken the following morning by police and informed that the girl's mother had made an allegation of rape (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 7 November 2002). His long-standing history of criticizing the government and the timing of his arrest -- one day before a planned trip to the United States, where he was due to talk about Kazakhstan's human rights situation -- immediately raised suspicions that the charges against Duvanov were politically motivated.

He was charged with raping a minor with prior knowledge of her age (Article 120, Part 2 of the Kazakh Criminal Code). However, RFE/RL's correspondent in Almaty reported on 28 January that the judge at the closed trial may have dismissed the original charge of rape of a minor, on the grounds that the 14-year-old victim looked older than her age and thus Duvanov may not have know she was under the legal age of consent. This point has not been clarified.

The trial opened on 24 December, immediately adjourned for a two-week recess, and recommenced on 6 January (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 10 January 2002). Observers during the early days of the trial reported that Duvanov, who maintained throughout that it was a sham orchestrated by the government to get rid of him, refused to answer questions. Violations of the defendant's rights had been noted even during the pretrial investigation (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 15 November 2003). Nazarbaev himself said well before the hearings had started that scientific testing had established Duvanov's guilt, thus prejudicing the trial and undermining the presumption of innocence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2002).

Yevgenii Zhovtis, the head of the Kazakh branch of the International Bureau for Human Rights who served as one of Duvanov's public defenders, protested additional violations as the trail proceeded. He said Duvanov's lawyers were not permitted to confer with their client confidentially, but only in the courtroom in the presence of prosecutors and court officials (see "RFE/RL Kazakh News," 9 January 2003). Zhovtis further protested on 10 January that a member of the prosecuting team, Erik Nurshin, was also editor in chief of the weekly newspaper "Dozhivyom do ponedelnika" (We Will Survive Till Monday) in which he had run an article calling Duvanov "rapist of the year." Zhovtis said this was prejudicial, unethical, and violated the presumption of innocence, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 10 January. Four days later Zhovtis reported to the court about police interference with the investigation and police intimidation of witnesses, and he called on the court to declare the case annulled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003).

The presiding judge, Bakytzhan Shoshikbaev, rejected complaints that numerous procedural violations had been committed. He also turned down a petition to drop the charges on the grounds of lack of evidence. At this point Duvanov declared that he no longer wished to participate in a trial whose outcome, he believed, was predetermined. On 23 January he dismissed his lawyers Vitalii Voronov and Serik Sarsenov and public defenders Maria Pulman and Zhovtis, RFE/RL reported. According to Zhovtis as quoted by Interfax on 24 January, "We absolutely quashed the indictment...and if the court does not want to listen at this stage, Duvanov does not need our services any more." Meanwhile Duvanov thanked his attorneys in a statement, saying, "You have done all you could, provided a highly professional defense, and proved my innocence." He added, "I do not want to participate in this farce any longer, and I waive my right to a defense," Interfax reported.

Duvanov was facing up to 10 years in jail. The prosecution demanded a sentence of seven years. On 28 January the court handed down a sentence only half as long, 3 1/2 years. The plaintiff's lawyer, Vasilii Martynovskii, was displeased. "The court actually gave [Duvanov] the minimum sentence.... We will appeal it," he told Kazakh Television. Meanwhile Zhovtis said that Duvanov's ex-lawyers would also appeal the sentence, whether or not the convicted journalist asked them to, the television reported on 28 January.

International rights organizations were quick to express concern at the verdict. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on the Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve said, "Numerous violations of procedure and the clear lack of evidence in this case cause concern that the court could be politically motivated," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 29 January. Steven Wagenseil, acting director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, characterized the trial as "seriously flawed" and called on the Appeals Court "to review carefully the accusations against Mr. Duvanov as well as all allegations of procedural violations during the pretrial investigation and the trial" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). The International League for Human Rights, which honored Duvanov at any award ceremony in December, addressed an open letter to Nazarbaev on 28 January with a similar demand for an impartial review of the case.

Meanwhile the head of the Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan, Sytkazy Mataev, told a press conference in Almaty on 29 January that both his organization and the allied Congress of Journalists of Kazakhstan supported Duvanov. Their position, Mataev said, was that "even if the journalist is guilty, we are always ready to defend him," Interfax reported.

But that tiny hint of doubt -- "even if the journalist is guilty" -- deserves comment. It should not be blown out of proportion, yet it does reflect some private crises of conscience discernible in conversations with some observers and Duvanov supporters who publicly support him to the hilt. Of course they want him to be innocent, and in any case they are surely correct that he did not receive a fair trial. They want to believe the rape never happened, and that Duvanov simply fell into a sedated slumber that night at his dacha as he claimed. And yet there are some points to the story (the girl looking deceptively older than her age, a relaxant of some kind added to his tea, the venue of a sauna) that nag some analysts. They nag them into wondering whether Duvanov, who maintains he is the victim of a whole tissue of lies, was actually the victim of something else: a nasty little sex sting executed by the National Security Committee. Pleasantly drugged in the sauna -- he acknowledged at one point he was left alone with her -- then professionally seduced by a girl whom he was led to believe was older than she appeared, and arrested in the morning for sleeping with a minor?

KARIMOVS IN SPAIN. On 27 January President Islam Karimov arrived in Spain for a three-day official visit whose main purpose, he told journalists before he left, was to boost trade and attract Spanish investment in Uzbekistan. The president said that, although Madrid had been generous with credits for medical projects, only six Spanish-Uzbek joint ventures were operating in the country, Uzbek Radio reported on 27 January. Uzbekistan exports cotton, leather, and mechanical equipment to Spain, and buys Spanish pharmaceutical products and optical equipment. The radio added that Karimov was accompanied by his wife, which is a rarity on his state trips. On their first evening the Karimovs were received at El Prado Palace by King Juan Carlos I and the queen.

On the following day Karimov met with Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, members of both chambers of the Spanish parliament, and Madrid Mayor Jose Maria Alvares to discuss bilateral political and economic cooperation as well as the battle against international terrorism and drug trafficking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). Karimov complained to Aznar that bilateral trade and economic ties "have failed to reach the level of contemporary requirements or the potential for either side," Interfax reported. Cooperation agreements were signed between their respective ministries of economics and foreign affairs, and an agreement on mutual stimulation and protection of investments. Talks between Karimov and the secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization led to a memorandum documents on cooperation in developing tourism, Uzbek Television reported on 28 January. Finally, Karimov met Spanish bank officials and businessmen to whom he enumerated the investment opportunities Uzbekistan could offer, the television said on 29 January. The Karimovs wrapped up their trip with a tour of the Prado Museum.

ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF KAZAKH ECONOMY BY NEW PRESIDENTIAL AIDE. At a cabinet session in the Kazakh capital Astana on 28 January, Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov was upbeat about the economy, saying that most economic targets for 2002 had been met (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). The announcement on 25 January that a dispute between Astana and the Tengizchevroil joint venture over a $3 billion expansion project had been resolved, was also good news for Kazakhstan's economy: the expansion could yield up to $810 million to the state budget through 2005 (see "Kazakhstan: Energy Project Resumes, But Questions Remain,", 28 January 2003).

Yet a much less rosy picture was painted on 29 January by presidential aide Uraz Zhandosov, delivering his first public remarks since being named to the post by President Nursultan Nazarbaev earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). Zhandosov's appointment attracted a lot of attention since, after serving in high government positions, he was dismissed from his post as deputy prime minister as he became co-founder of two opposition parties in rapid succession -- Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) in November 2001 and the Aq Zhol (Bright Path) Party in January 2002. He was the first of the DVK founders to return to the government, and retains his post as co-chairman of Aq Zhol.

Zhandosov told journalists on 29 January that good statistics could not hide that fact that the country faced significant economic and developmental challenges. He highlighted problems in the social sphere, where the gap between rich and poor is becoming so acute it is turning into "a destabilizing factor in society," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He called for taxes and interest rates to be reduced with a view to encouraging small businesses. Furthermore he criticized the failure to implement planned reforms of the state-run railways and telecommunications sector. At the same time Zhandosov said the government should not be in a hurry to sell its shares in major enterprises, which "would serve no fiscal purpose since there was practically no budget deficit last year, and by law proceeds from privatization can be used solely for covering the deficit," Khabar TV reported. Meanwhile on 24 January the government sold its 25 percent stake in the country's copper giant, Kazakhmys joint-stock company, in two lots totaling 31 billion tenges ($199 million). It was the largest-ever transaction on Kazakhstan's stock market, the newspaper "Novoe pokolenie" reported. However, a tender to sell the state's 32 percent stake in the country's aluminum giant Aluminiy Kazakhstana, scheduled for 28 January, was cancelled after only one buyer applied, Interfax said.

In an interview with the newspaper "Vremya" on 23 January, Aq Zhol Co-Chairman Alikhan Baymenov said the party intended to conduct three nationwide, signature-gathering campaigns to learn the people's views about three hot topics. These were "easing the tax burden," "stopping imports and storage of foreign radioactive waste," and "transparency in contracts about raw materials contracts." Baymenov said the rationale behind these campaigns was to appeal directly to the nation, "since the government is not ready to accept sensible initiatives." He rejected the suggestion that Zhandosov's appointment meant the government had embraced Aq Zhol's views.