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Prominent Kazakh Rights Activist Sentenced To Four Years In Jail

Yevgeny Zhovtis in court to hear the verdict
Yevgeny Zhovtis in court to hear the verdict
A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced a prominent human rights activist to four years in jail for manslaughter, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Yevgeny Zhovtis, the director of the International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, was driving a car on July 26 in Almaty Oblast when he struck and killed a 35-year-old man.

Kazakh human rights activist Andrei Sviridov told RFE/RL that Zhovtis refused to make any last statement after the verdict was announced, saying only that the trial was a "political punishment."

Several human rights groups say the case was an effort to silence Zhovtis due to his professional activities.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) had called on Kazakh officials to provide Zhovtis with a fair and transparent trial, saying it feared political interference. HRW noted the Kazakh government's past harassment of its critics.

Zhovtis believes the case filed against him was ordered by higher officials.

A first test performed right after the accident showed no alcohol in Zhovtis' blood. A technical examination of the accident reported that Zhovtis had no chance to avoid the accident, which occurred when a drunken man reportedly entered the street in front of his car.

However, several days later, Kazakh authorities ordered a second forensics test. That one found alcohol in Zhovtis’ blood, and technical experts concluded that Zhovtis could have avoided hitting the man.

A spokesman for Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee told RFE/RL this week that there has been no political inference in the case.

The human rights situation in Kazakhstan has come under increasing scrutiny as the country is poised to take over the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010.

Earlier this summer, Zhovtis had been invited to Vienna by the OSCE, along with Kazakh officials and independent observers, to discuss the country's readiness to chair the organization. He expressed his view that Kazkahstan has not yet met its human rights obligations.