Kazakhstan: Opposition leader sentenced to 7 years and 6 months in prison with confiscation of property

  • 09.10.2012
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08.08.2012 in Mangistau regional court in Aktau a sentence in the case of opposition leaders has been handed down. Vladimir Kozlov was sentenced to 7 years and 6 months  imprisonment with confiscation of property. Akzhanat Aminov and Serik Sapargali were sentenced to 5 and 4 years’ probation, respectively and were released from the courtroom.

The court held that the actions of Kozlov, Sapargali and Aminov led to riots in Zhanaozen and the village of Shepte on 16-17 December 2011.

Vladimir Kozlov and Akzhanat Aminov were considered by the court to be members of an "organised criminal group" (OCG) and charged under the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan:

  • Inciting social hatred, resulting in grave consequences (Article 164, paragraph 3);
  • Calls for the overthrow of the constitutional order, committed with the use of the media or by an organised group (Article 170, paragraph 2);
  • The creation and management of a criminal organisation with the aim of committing one or more offences (Article 235, paragraph 1).

Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unregistered opposition party "Alga", was sentenced to 7 years, 6 months of in prison and confiscation of movable and immovable property, including   a fine of 800 thousand tenge (over 4 thousand euro). Kozlov has pleaded not guilty, and has said the charges are politically motivated.

Akzhanat Aminov, the leader of the strike movement in Mangistau, received a sentence of 5 years’ probation suspended for three years and fined 500 thousand tenge (2.5 thousand euro) released in the courtroom. A. Aminov pleaded guilty to all counts and repented.

Serik Sapargali, activist "Popular Front - Halyk Maidana," was found guilty under Article 170, paragraph 2 - calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order, committed with the use of the media. At the same time the charge of inciting social hatred (article 164, paragraph 3) was removed. S. Sapargali was sentenced to 4 years probation, with a probation period of 3 years and a fine of 390 thousand tenge (2 thousand euro), was released in the courtroom. S.Sapargali pleaded guilty in part - sincerely regretting and admitting his guilt adding that his words and actions could have led to the events of December 2011 in Zhanaozen. But denies that he created an organised criminal group and claims not to have participated in one, denies the charge of "calling for the violent overthrow or change of the constitutional order.

Judge Berdybek Myrzabekov announced the verdict in the Kazakh language without translation into Russian, in violation of the international standards for fair trial.In consequence, a translator read a part of the Judge’s speech in Russian – regarding the period of punishment for the defendants, and also addresses all of the "confiscated property", listing all the addresses of apartments in the cities of Kazakhstan, where the offices of the party "Alga" were located, then private buildings, garages in Almaty and the amounts of money seized during searches.

Human rights activists and social activists in Kazakhstan associated the seizure of V.Kozlov’s property with the direct seizure of property of the unregistered party over many years party "Alga." According to the activists, the only possible form of existence and protection of local opposition party was registration of real estate, including party Office, in the name of the famous politician Kozlov, and now all the property will be fully confiscated, and continuation of the party’s existence will be impossible.

Despite the fact that the sentencing was open, some people could not be present in the courtroom, such as civil society activists, including human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis, independent journalist Sergei Duvanov, an opposition politician Bolat Abilov and Alex Plugov, Kozlov’s lawyer. 08.10.2012 they had a morning flight Almaty-Aktau (the only flight), but were detained for up to 8 hours waiting for "technical reasons", while other flights continued as scheduled.

After the verdict was announced, in the courtroom  there was an audible uproar, cries of "Shame". When police escorted Kozlov from the courtroom, he stopped and said: "This is not justice! The judgement is still ahead!».

According to Alia Turusbekova, the wife of Vladimir Kozlov, they are not going to give up: the lawyers will submit the appeal as soon as possible.

Serik Sapargali, coming out of the courtroom, stated that he and Vladimir Kozlov are not guilty, and the charges of the National Security Committee are contrived, a key factor here is the struggle between the old political opponents Mukhtar Ablyazov and Nursultan Nazarbayev. According to Sapargali he partially admitted his guilt only in order to be released and help Vladimir and the victims in Zhanaozen and Shepte. Sapargali also claims that he had no conflicts with Akzhanat Aminov, and many oil companies do not condemn the fact that he pleaded guilty because the system itself forced him to do so.

Dmitry Kozlov, Vladimir Kozlov’s brother, said that the announcement of the verdict can dispel any suggestion of democracy that Nazarbayev is trying to create in the eyes of Europe. Dmitry Kozlov said the verdict confirms the absence of competition in the proceedings, as well as a direct effect of power on the court decision. "I think that if Vladimir testified against Ablyazov, the sentence would have been much more lenient”.

Human rights activist, Yevgeny Zhovtis says that there weren’t any hopes of acquittal on the "Case of the opposition", especially after the statements of the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in an interview with the Russian TV channel: "From Nursultan Nazarbayev’s interviews it results, in my view, that the verdict was predetermined and it was going to be accusatory. In this case, it seems to me, that for him it was not essential, how the conviction will be justified because President Nazarbayev said that it was a "criminal offence", and the investigation and prosecution argued that Kozlov politicised this labor conflict”.

Let us recall that the day before the verdict, 07.10.2012, President Nazarbayev in an interview with Russian First Channel, said that all the perpetrators of the tragedy of Zhanaozen were detained and he knew what kind of punishment they must receive.

The significance of Vladimir Kozlov’s sentence should be considered as a precedent of dissent destroyed by the government and secular opposition in Kazakhstan, as the figure of a well-known politician who was not afraid to criticise the government's actions on the international stage, including the European Parliament, the European Commission and the OSCE is a personification of civil society and the opposition. Now social activists can be condemned for dissent in Kazakhstan, just like V. Kozlov.

Kozlov’s guilt during the trial was proven on the evidence of people who were tortured and harassed, and biased examination of linguists and psychologists which were falsified as evidence (skype conferences, Bulat Atabayev’s testimonies).

The trial of the opposition created conditions for the closure of independent media sources, the activity of which was referred to "extremist” by the prosecutors.

At the same time, attention should be paid to the release of Akzhanat Aminov and Serik Sapargali from custody, and giving Kozlov a shorter sentence than the one required by the prosecution (9 years), which once again underlines the sensitivity of Kazakhstan to the reaction of the world community.

In view of the forthcoming visits of official delegations of the European Parliament and the European Commission to the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Open Dialog Foundation calls for the following actions:

  • During the summits, urging Kazakhstan to release Kozlov and to provide amnesty to the convicted oil workers, as well as carry out independent investigation with international observers of the tragic events in Zhanaozen and Shetpe in 2011;
  • Monitoring the freedom of expression and media in Kazakhstan, in order to prevent another wave of repression;
  • Carrying out an independent international investigation into the torture witnessed during the trial of 37 oil workers.

More on this topic: Kozlov