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Kazakh Rights Activists Say Parole Denial Linked To Referendum


Protesters showing support for Yevgeny Zhovtis in Uralsk in October 2009, shortly

Protesters showing support for Yevgeny Zhovtis in Uralsk in October 2009, shortly

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Rights activists in Kazakhstan say a decision to deny parole to a prominent jailed human rights defender is likely connected with a planned referendum on extending the president's term in office, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Yevgeny Zhovtis, who is serving a four-year sentence for vehicular manslaughter, was denied parole on January 18 on the grounds that he appears impenitent.

The Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights, which Zhovtis chairs, issued a statement alleging that the decision is directly connected with plans to hold a referendum to prolong Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's term in office until 2020.

"Today, Zhovtis is especially dangerous for those who try to deprive all citizens in Kazakhstan of their constitutional right to elect and be elected," the statement says.

Last week, both chambers of parliament approved the proposal to hold a nationwide referendum to prolong Nazarbaev's presidential term by 10 years, bypassing a presidential election scheduled for 2012.

Zhovtis has often spoken out about alleged rights violations by the Kazakh government.

Zhovtis was sentenced in 2009 to four years' imprisonment for killing a pedestrian in a car accident, in a case criticized by human rights groups.

He is serving that sentence in a minimum-security labor camp in the northeastern city of Oskemen.

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