Kazakhstan’s Leading Defender Remains in Prison
It has been a year since Kazakhstan’s leading human rights defender, Yevgeniy Zhovtis, was convicted and sentenced to a four-year imprisonment in a trial questioned by international observers. Today, Human Rights First joined a coalition of rights groups and think-tanks, urging Secretary Clinton to work with her Kazakhstani counterparts to secure justice for Mr. Zhovtis.
In 2009, Mr. Zhovtis was involved in a tragic accident, in which a car he was driving struck and killed a pedestrian who was walking down the middle of an unlit country road at night. He was driving in accordance with all traffic rules and could not possibly have stopped in time to prevent the accident.
The investigation, trial, and appeal of Mr. Zhovtis’ case were all replete with fundamental violations of Kazakhstan law. Ultimately these violations appear to be politically motivated actions by the Kazakh government to exploit the tragedy, cast doubt on Mr. Zhovtis’ credibility, and thereby prevent him from carrying out his important human rights work. Among the most glaring violations were the investigator’s failure to inform Mr. Zhovtis in a timely manner that he was a suspect in the case and the trial judge’s refusal to allow expert testimony supporting Mr. Zhovtis’ contention that he could not have prevented the accident.
Incarcerated in a penal colony in the eastern province of Oskemen (or Ust-Kamenogorsk in Russian), Mr. Zhovtis has been the victim of arbitrary treatment by prison authorities: the penal establishment where he is serving his four-year sentence allows inmates to work and settle outside the establishment, subject to the discretion of its director. His continued incarceration is emblematic of the systematic failures in the Kazakhstani justice system and speaks poorly of the state of human rights and rule of law in Kazakhstan.
Before any more time passes, the government of Kazakhstan should take whatever steps are necessary, consonant with local legislation, to undo this miscarriage of justice and release Mr. Zhovtis.
Read the full text of the letter (in pdf format).