WASHINGTON– Responding to the sentencing of Kazakhstani opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), criticized the conduct of the trial and renewed his call for a serious international investigation into the December 2011 violence in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan.
“The trial against Mr. Kozlov and his codefendants Akzhanat Aminov and Serik Sapargali was unfairly conducted and appears to have had political motives,” said Chairman Smith. “Both local and international observers reported that evidence was fabricated and defense witnesses were not allowed to testify. It is especially outrageous that Kozlov’s participation in the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting last year was presented as evidence against him.”
Kozlov leads the Alga party, which has long been denied registration. He and his codefendants were found guilty on October 8 of forming an illegal group, inciting social hatred, and calling for the violent overthrow of Kazakhstan‘s constitutional order. They were arrested after an almost year-long strike by oil workers which government forces violently put down in December 2011 in the town of Zhanaozen. Kozlov was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison and confiscation of property, while his codefendants received suspended sentences.
“I call on Kazakhstan – a former Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE – to stop using the Zhanaozen events to silence political opposition and allow full access for an international investigation of the events and the conduct of the trials related to them,” said Chairman Smith. “Not only was Mr. Kozlov’s trial poorly conducted, but Kazakh authorities have ignored credible evidence that, in other trials related to the Zhanaozen events, police used torture and coercion to extract confessions.”
The United States government has documented numerous severe human rights violations by the government of Kazakhstan, including in the U.S. State Department’s most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (click here for 2011 report on Kazakhstan).