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ASTANA -- The jailed lawyer of striking oil workers in western Kazakhstan has been unexpectedly released on probation.

Natalya Sokolova, a lawyer for the Qarazhanbasmunai oil company's labor unions, has been freed on probation and is at home, her husband, Vasily Chepurnoy, confirmed to RFE/RL.

Sokolova was sentenced to six years in prison in August 2011 on charges of "inciting social hatred" in connection with an oil-workers' strike in Kazakhstan's Manghystau region. She said the case against her was politically motivated.

Though declining to be interviewed, Sokolova said that the Kazakh Supreme Court had reduced her sentence from six years in prison to three years' probation, with a ban on social work during that period.

Sokolova was arrested in May 2011.

In December 2011, at least 16 people were killed during clashes between police and striking workers who were, among other things, demanding Sokolova's release.

Last month, the Kazakh authorities released jailed rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis on amnesty after 2 1/2 years in prison. Jailed journalist Tokhniyaz Kuchukov was freed the same day.
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