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Kazakhstan: Jailed Human Rights Defender Amnestied

Kazakh human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis
Kazakh human rights defender Yevgeny Zhovtis
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The prominent Kazakh human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis has been granted amnesty, after serving more than a half of his four-year jail sentence for manslaughter.

Zhovtis, former chief of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights, told RFE/RL by phone on February 1 that he will be released in 15 days.

The move has been welcomed by the rights-monitoring Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

In a statement, the OSCE has urged Kazakh authorities to follow the release of Zhovtis with full, transparent probes into recent violence in a western Kazakh city and allegations of electoral irregularities in January elections.

According to Zhovtis, 25 inmates in a labor camp were amnestied on January 25 in connection with the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence.

The amnesty was adopted by the Kazakh government last year.

Zhovtis believes the regulation obliging all the amnestied inmates to stay in the labor camp for 15 days before their release is “hard to understand.”

“Any man, who served a part of his term established by law, and the [Criminal Code] statute, according to which he was sentenced, is eligible for amnesty, should be released immediately," he said.

"I think that is obvious. But this decision, from my point of view, is absurd, because it is not clear for me who needs those 15 days. Why does the state need me and other [amnestied)] inmates to stay in our labor camp for another 15 days? What for?"

Criticism From RIghts Groups

Zhovtis 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 and drew international criticism.

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

Zhovtis led the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights in Almaty until his conviction in August 2009.

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

Human rights activists considered the verdict against Zhovtis to be unusually harsh and said the sentence is retaliation for his professional activities.

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

In November 2010, a New York-based advocacy group, the Open Society Justice Initiative, said Zhovtis had filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, alleging that his imprisonment was meant to silence him.

In a written statement welcoming the release of Zhovtis, Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, the Director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, expressed concern about a continuing clampdown on opposition activities in Kazakhstan in the wake of the violence in December in the city of Zhanaozen, and alleged irregularities in parliamentary elections held in mid-January.

The OSCE statement urged Kazakh authorities to permit full, transparent and independent investigations into the violence and allegations of electoral fraud.

The statement also criticized Kazakh authorities for recent arrests and trials of leading Kazakh opposition figures and an independent journalist who openly questioned the election results and the events in Zhanaozen.
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