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Kazakh Rights Activist Released From Jail

  • RFE/RL

Yevgeny Zhovtis

Yevgeny Zhovtis

OSKEMEN, Kazakhstan -- Kazakh rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis, freed after 2 1/2 years in prison thanks to an amnesty, has expressed support for other political activists and journalists being held in detention centers and prisons in Kazakhstan.

Zhovtis, former chief of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights, was sentenced in 2009 to four years in jail for a road accident that killed a pedestrian.

The trial was seen by human rights activists as politically motivated retaliation over his professional activities and drew international criticism. Zhovtis had often spoken out about alleged rights violations committed by the Kazakh government.

Zhovtis was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. Rights groups raised doubts about accusations he had been drinking alcohol before the accident and noting that police later lost Zhovtis's blood sample during the trial.

Also freed from prison on February 17 was journalist Tokhniyaz Kuchukov, who was convicted in August 2009, also of vehicular manslaughter.

Zhovtis was repeatedly denied parole on allegations of "violating internal order" at a minimum-security labor camp in the eastern Kazakh city of Oskemen.

Following his release, he named jailed Kazakh activists Natalya Sokolova, Vladimir Kozlov, and Aizhangul Amirova, among others, and said he "wished them courage and fortitude, even in the most desperate situation."

Crackdown On Dissent

Dozens of activists have been arrested in Kazakhstan following the December violence in the western Kazakh city of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 people were killed in clashes between striking oil workers and police.

The amnesty that freed Zhovtis was supported by President Nursultan Nazarbaev shortly before Nazarbaev made an official trip to Germany -- the first trip to the West by the veteran ruler since the Zhanaozen unrest.

In a written statement, Zhovtis said his time in prison had not changed his political views. He said his standpoint on the situation in Kazakhstan, and his values regarding freedom and justice remained unchanged.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Zhovtis for his efforts to promote human rights issues during her visit to Kazakhstan in 2010.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service