UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union
“The Voice of Emigration, Jewish Survival, and Human Rights in the Former Soviet Union Since 1970”
P.O. Box 11676 ♦ Cleveland Park ♦ Washington, D.C. 20008 ♦ (202) 237-8262 ♦ Fax (202) 237-2236
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ♦ Web: http://www.ucsj.org
Larry Lerner Micah H. Naftalin
President National Director
For Immediate Release September 4, 2009
Contact: Nickolai Butkevich, (202) 641-7420 or email@example.com
UCSJ PROTESTS IMPRISONMENT OF KAZAKHSTAN’S
LEADING HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST
Trial Makes a Mockery of Kazakhstan’s Candidacy to Chair OSCE in 2010
Washington, DC–UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union today expressed its deep concern and outrage over the September 3 sentencing of a well-known human rights leader in Kazakhstan. The director of the International Kazakhstan Human Rights Bureau, Eugeny Zhovtis, was sentenced yesterday in the Bakanasky court to four years in a penal colony after what appears to be a rigged trial.
UCSJ founded Mr. Zhovtis’ bureau in 1992 as the Kazakhstan American Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law; it has since become an independent organization.
“Mr. Zhovtis is Kazakhstan’s leading human rights activist, and we think that this case is most likely a form of revenge against him for his years of monitoring and criticism of the government’s egregious violations of human rights,” said Micah H. Naftalin, UCSJ’s National Director. “He has devoted his life to improving the Kazakhstani authorities’ attitude towards human rights and the rule of law, and in return, it appears that they are taking advantage of a tragic accident to railroad him.”
The case began when Mr. Zhovtis accidentally struck and killed a man walking along a highway last July. His lawyers informed UCSJ that Mr. Zhovtis did not violate any traffic laws. They also reported blatant violations of the law and procedures during the investigation and hearings. For example, for more than two weeks in August, Mr. Zhovtis was not informed that he was being treated by investigators as a suspect; he instead thought that he was still a witness.
Most egregiously, the family of the victim signed a statement affirming that they had no desire to see Mr. Zhovtis prosecuted and expressing their belief that he was not guilty, but the judge did not accept this critical statement as evidence. There were also many other violations of the criminal-procedure code of Kazakhstan (what appears to be a falsified technical-medical examination being among the most blatant).
“This court decision shows that Kazakhstan is not ready to be chair of the OSCE in 2010,” Mr. Naftalin added. “It seems obvious to us that any country that jails human rights activists on such blatantly unfair charges has no place chairing such a prestigious body, especially one with an important human rights mandate. We call upon the U.S. and other governments to officially protest this sham conviction, and to state unambiguously that they will move to block Kazakhstan’s candidacy for the OSCE chairmanship if the conviction and punishment are not abrogated or a transparent and fair trial is not held in the near future.”
Today, UCSJ sent letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to the chairman of the Congressional Helsinki Commission, Senator Benjamin Cardin, asking for their support as Mr. Zhovtis appeals his conviction.