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Kazakhstan: oppositionists denied the right to a fair trial

The further course of the trial of the oppositionists: Vladimir Kozlov, Serik Sapargali and Akzhanat Aminov serves to prove the prejudice of the court and the inequality between the prosecution and the defence. Recent events of the trial confirm that the oppositionists are denied the right to a fair trial, stipulated in the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The investigators accuse the oppositionists  of pushing oil workers to carry out “mass riots” with their actions which had serious consequences.

• Vladimir Kozlov fully denied the allegations.
• Akhanat Aminov pleaded guilty.
 Serik Sapargali pleaded partial guilt, stating, that he regrets that his actions led to blood being shed. 

It can be assumed that A. Aminov and S. Sapargali, both sufferring from diabetes, are hoping to regain their freedom just like Bolat Atabayev and Zhanbolat Mamay, who in July, wrote a statement of repentance, and were exempt from prosecution following their active confession.

With the trial of Kozlov, S. Sapargali and A. Aminov, the government is trying to take control of its major competitors and to reduce the influence of the opposition as a whole. Such cases against businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Russia and ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine are prime examples of how the authorities are using the judicial system as a method of dealing with political rivals,

1. Some specific features of the examination of witnesses cast doubt on the legitimacy of the charges.

1.1. Testimony of former activists of the strike movement.  The prosecution called in witnesses who in the past had been convicted in the case of “incitement of social discord” and later released from custody after making “active confessions.” Today, these same people are testifying against their former associates. Journalists and human rights activists who have been present at the trial, have suggested that the words of these witnesses had been prepared beforehand and that the statements were made under pressure.

• On the 28th of August, 2012, the oil workers, convicted in the past for the unrest in Zhanaozen,  testified, and some of their testimonies are contrary to what they had stated previously. For example, a participant of the strikes, Estay Karashayev, could not recall his words, documented in the protocol, which were that Sapargali, Mamay, Atabayev are the people of Mukhtar Ablyazov. Another former organiser of strikes, Natalia Azhigaliyeva, during the questioning of the prosecutor and counsels constantly gave inconsistent statements and referred to the opinions of third parties. 

 • Natalia Sokolova, an accountant and lawyer of the striking oil workers union, during the examination held on the 20th of August, 2012, stated that she had incorrectly calculated the salaries of oil workers, which prompted them to carry out an industrial action. But human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis says that Sokolova made accurate calculations and so she had every reason to promulgate such calculationsIt should be noted that in 2011, Sokolova was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for inciting social discord. But soon afterwards, on the 8th of March, 2012, she was released from prison. It can be assumed that the reason for this decision was not only sincere repentance, but also a tacit consent to testify in the Zhanaozen case conveniently forthe prosecution.

  Ayzhangul Amirova, a former ally of Serik Sapargali, during her testimony against Vladimir Kozlov said that Kozlov’s counsel threatened her and exerted pressure upon her. Conversely, the counsel, Venera Sarsembina, has fully denied these allegations. 

• Former Director of the “OzenMunayGaz” JSC K. Eshmanov withdrawn his earlier testimony. On the 17th of August, 2012, he stated that at the instructions of the Akimat, 200 police officers were ready to disperse the strikers from the square. Two days later, K. Eshmanov renounced the given statement. Human rights activist E. Zhovtis believes that the authorities forced the witness to change his testimony.

• Certain witnesses base their testimony not on facts but on their personal assessments, immediately placing the blame on the defendants. Representatives of the authorities see no causation of the Zhanaozen tragedy in their inaction, instead, they are accusing the opposition, activists and independent media. Vice-Minister of Labour B. Nurymbetov and former first deputy akim of the Mangistau region, A. Aitkulov, are of the same opinion.

• Another witness, examined on the 20th of August, 2012, the honorable retiree Asylbek Aidarov said that he personally did not see or hear what the opposition politicians told oil–workers, but he blames V. Kozlov, B. Atabayev, S. Sapargali and Z. Mamay for the tragedy. The testimony of Deputy Director of the “OzenMunayGaz” Taras Kuntuzov was similar in content. He accused Vladimir Kozlov and the TV channel “K-plus” of distorting the facts and inciting protest, although, as he said, he does not know himself whether Kozlov gave speeches to oil-workers or not.

1.2. Bias and offensive expert testimony. Testimonies of experts, invited to the trial on the 20th of August, 2012, cast doubt over their competence and impartiality.

• Nagima Abisheva, chief specialist of the forensic centre in Almaty, said that in the statements of Serik Sapargali there are calls for the violent overthrow of constitutional order, despite the fact that S. Sapargali gave speeches in Almaty on the 17th of December, 2011, while the tragic events occurred in Zhanaozen on the 16th of December, 2011.

 Roza Akbarova, an expert and political scientist, called Mukhtar Ablyazov the main sponsor of the ‘Alga!’ opposition party and recognised the party to be an extremist organisation. According to Aleksey Plugov, Vladimir Kozlov’s counsel, some documents, which were subject to analysis by Akbarova, were absent from the case file. Other examined experts criticised the independent media, accusing them of inciting social hatred, at the same time citing the titles of articles published after the events in Zhanaozen in Shepte.

• Examination of three experts who had conducted psycholinguistic analysis of telephone conversations of the defendants showed that the experts’ conclusions were based on materials that had not been provided to them in full. The experts were not sent the full transcript, but just some of the phrases used, which were taken out of context.

2. Provocations and pressure exerted by the authorities.

2.1. Hinderance of the work of the defence. The oppositionists’ colleagues report that they were physically obstructed from attending the trial.

• On the 16th of August, the son of one of the leaders of the “Alga!” party Marat Zhanuzakov was taken by the police and held at the police station for several hours. M. Zhanuzakov called the event an attempt to prevent his journey to Aktau required to participate in the trial of Vladimir Kozlov.

• On the 20th of August, 2012 in Aktau, Fatima Kasenova, an activist of the “Alga” unregistered party, was arrested. She was handing out leaflets relating to the course and nature of the trial of the oppositionists. According to the Aktau prosecutors, such actions are considered an interference to the activity of the court. After drawing up the protocol, F. Kasenova was released.

• Vladimir Kozlov does not exclude acts of provocation in his address. According to Vladimir Kozlov, in a cell next door unknown people remain. They do not give their names, behave rudely, constantly check the politician’s cell in his absence, and give him  packages which have already been opened and bear traces of  mechanical manipulation. The defendant fears for  his life and is prepared to go on hunger strike until such time that the court deals with these regulation breaches.

• Unequal opportunity for coverage of the process was also apparent: in contrast to bloggers, independent media representatives are not permitted to use mobile phones. Court bailiffs have tried to search the counsels and confiscate their mobile phones, while the Kazakh law prohibits such actions, according to the Freedom House organisation. 

2.2. Political nature of the case. Observers reported that the trial of three oppositionists is politically motivated, and the process itself is similar to an open confrontation of President Nursultan Nazarbayev with his personal enemy Mukhtar Ablyazov.

• Vladimir Kozlov was accused  due to his rpurported membership  in “Ablyazov’s extremist gang”. One can assume that with this trial the government wishes to negatively affect the image of Mukhtar Ablyazov who resides outside the country. Further proof supporting this notion is that the striking oil workers were also supported by representatives of the parties ‘Azat’ and the National Social-Democratic Party, but they are absent from defendant’s bench today.

• During the trial, prosecutors openly violate the principle of presumption of innocence, calling Mukhtar Ablyazov a “trespasser”, despite the fact that in 2003 the European Community acquitted the oppositionist and recognised him as a political prisoner.

• Any criticism of the government, expressed by oppositionists, is referred to by the prosecutors as “false”, “criminal”, “provocative”, “undermining the constitutional basis of the state”. For example, the opposition is accused of “questioning the legitimacy of the legally elected President of Kazakhstan by creating a belief among citizens that he allegedly lied to them”. Opposition members are also accused of creating a positive political image of Ablyazov, which casts doubt on the possibility of free political competition in Kazakhstan.

• Investigators label the strike of the Zhanaozen oil workers illegal and condemn political defiance. This setss a precedent, when the defence of labour rights by citizens becomes illegal, and the expression of political dissent against the authorities – a deed subject to criminal prosecution.

“There is no cause-and-effect relationship between the assistance provided to oil workers by the politicians, and the event that took place in Zhanaozen on the 16th of December” – declared the renowned human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis.  These facts suggest that the prosecution does not hold sufficient evidence against the opposition, but merely questionable expert evidence and witness evidence.

To sum up, it is important to stress the need for the participation of the European community representatives in reporting on and monitoring the trial of the Kazakh opposition leaders. Calls for a fair trial for Vladimir Kozlov and other opposition leaders have already been expressed by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, a prominent Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, the international human rights organisation ‘Human Rights Watch’ as well as members of the European Parliament.