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OSCE Urges Kazakhstan To Ensure Fair Trial For Activist


Yevgeny Zhovtis in court

Yevgeny Zhovtis in court

ALMATY (Reuters) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has urged Kazakhstan to ensure a fair appeal trial for a human rights activist jailed in a case he has called politically motivated.

Kazakhstan's human rights record has come under close scrutiny this year as the ex-Soviet nation prepares to take over the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010.

A Kazakh court this month sentenced human rights campaigner and government critic Yevgeny Zhovtis to four years in prison for violation of traffic regulations following a July accident when he fatally hit a pedestrian on a highway.

Zhovtis, 54, has linked the harsh sentence handed down to him in a brief trial to his professional activities and called the verdict politically charged.

He was accused of failing to make an emergency stop. He said he was blinded by the lights of oncoming cars and could not have prevented the accident.

"We already conveyed our concerns to the Kazakh government about reports of numerous violations of Zhovtis' right to a fair trial in the run-up to his conviction," Douglas Wake, the first deputy director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, told reporters.

"While we are not suggesting that Zhovtis should receive any special treatment, it is essential that fair trial standards are fully respected during the appeals process."

Zhovtis has filed an appeal but a date for the hearing is yet to be decided.

Kazakhstan has seen an increase in media restrictions and a series of controversial prosecutions ahead of the OSCE chairmanship, Western observers and human rights campaigners say.

The United States and the European Parliament have earlier expressed concern over Zhovtis' case and human rights groups such as Freedom house have called his trial unfair.

The Kazakh opposition has on a number of occasions accused the government of using trumped-up charges to jail or silence critics of President Nursultan Nazarbayev who has run the country since 1989, a charge the government denies.
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