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Freed Kazakh Editor Says Political Views Unchanged

Kazakh journalist Igor Vinyavsky
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A Kazakh independent journalist who has been released from pretrial detention says his pro-reform political views have not changed.

Igor Vinyavsky, editor of the independent "Vzglyad" (Viewpoint) newspaper, was unexpectedly pardoned and released from jail on March 15.

He was detained in January after visiting the southwestern town of Zhanaozen, where police shot dead at least 16 protesters in December.

His release came after a former lawyer for oil workers in Zhanaozen, Natalya Sokolova, was last week also unexpectedly released on parole.

Sokolova had been sentenced to six years in prison on charges of "inciting social hatred" in connection with the oil-workers' strike in Zhanaozen.

On March 15, the European Parliament adopted a resolution expressing deep concern about Zhanaozen and calling on Kazakh authorities to provide assurances regarding the safety of families of arrested activists.

Facing A Lesser Charge

Dozens of people were arrested in Zhanaozen for their alleged roles in the unrest. Several activists were detained after they visited the town and talked to relatives of victims and arrested oil workers. They were all charged with inciting social hatred.

Vinyavsky was among them. Vinyavsky told RFE/RL when leaving the pretrial detention center that his case was reclassified and he was pardoned because the new charge against him is not as serious as inciting social hatred.

Instead, Vinyavsky said he was charged with "calling for the overthrow of the constitutional order with the help of a group of people," which carries a maximum punishment of up to five years.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has welcomed Vinyavsky's release as a "positive sign.”

The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, expressed hope that the charges against Vinyavsky would be dropped and that his publication would be able to quickly retrieve its computers and financial records, which were seized by security officers on the day he was detained.

EU Deeply Concerned

Vinyavsky's release came the same day that the European Parliament adopted a resolution expressing deep concern about the events in Zhanaozen.

The resolution condemns the violent crackdown by police against protesters demonstrating in support of oil workers who had gone unpaid.

It also calls for an international role in an independent investigation of the events.

The resolution urges Kazakh authorities to provide assurances regarding the safety of the families of arrested activists, and says the EU's diplomatic corps, the External Action Service, should monitor the trial of those accused of organizing the demonstrations.

The trial of some 40 former oil workers and their supporters charged with organizing mass unrest is scheduled to begin on March 27 in Aqtau, the capital of Manghystau Oblast.

With reporting by Reuters
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