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Freedom House Urges Kazakh Government to Release Evgeniy Zhovtis


Freedom House today urged Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to pardon and release human rights defender Evgeniy Zhovtis, who was convicted last year by a Kazakh court of vehicular manslaughter in a case that international observers reported to be fraught with procedural flaws. He has already served nearly one year in the four year term to which he was sentenced.

The Zhovtis case arose from the death of Kanat Moldabayev, whom he struck and killed in a traffic accident on an unlit Kazakh highway more than a year ago. The undisputed facts of the case demonstrate that Zhovtis was neither under the influence nor operating at excessive speed, and could not have avoided hitting the victim. A Kazakh court sentenced Mr. Zhovtis to a four year prison term, explained in an eleven page judgment which it issued only fifteen minutes after his conviction. The conviction and sentencing are widely believed to send a message to others who might criticize the Kazakh government, as Mr. Zhovtis has over his twenty year career as a human rights defender.

“As the current head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Kazakhstan has a responsibility to provide moral leadership in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” said Paula Schriefer, acting executive director of Freedom House. “A demonstration of respect for the rights of Mr. Zhovtis, one of the country’s most vocal and admired human rights defenders, could be an important indicator of this type of leadership.”

Last month, foreign ministers of OSCE member states – including the United States – agreed to Kazakhstan’s request to hold the first OSCE summit in more than a decade, which they will host in their capital city, Astana, in early December. A group of NGOs wrote to Secretary Clinton earlier this year urging her to link U.S. support of the summit to a series of human rights-related conditions, including throwing out the Zhovtis verdict and holding a new trial.

“Pardoning Evgeniy Zhovtis now makes sense from every perspective,” Sam Patten, Freedom House senior manager for Eurasia pointed out. “Tragically, thousands of Kazakhs are killed in motor accidents each year and Mr. Zhovtis has already served substantially more time in prison than most of those who are responsible for these accidental deaths. By insisting that he serve his full sentence, Kazakhstan’s government is not convincing anyone of its commitment to the rule of law, rather it is reminding the world that, in Kazakhstan, it is only the powerful who rule.”

Kazakhstan is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties.

For more information on Kazakhstan, visit:

Nations in Transit 2010: Kazakhstan<

Freedom in the World 2010: Kazakhstan<

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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