International Criticism of Duvanov Conviction Mounts Against Kazakhstan
Western governments, including the United States and European Union, are calling for a speedy review of a Kazakhstani court's conviction of prominent opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov on rape charges. Meanwhile, Duvanov appears resigned to serving his 3 ½-year prison term, writing that "the practice of muzzling protesters and dissent has become the norm" in Kazakhstan.
Authorities took Duvanov into custody in late October, accusing him of raping a 14-year-old girl. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives]. International observers at Duvanov's trial, which concluded January 28, cited numerous "procedural violations" that cast doubt on the propriety of the guilty verdict. [For background information see the Eurasia Insight archives].
A statement issued by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on January 28 said Duvanov's defense team had not been given sufficient time to prepare a legal defense. It also noted that prosecutors restricted Duvanov's right to private consultations with his attorneys.
"Although the judge admitted that procedural irregularities had occurred during the pre-trial investigations, this was not taken into account in favor of the defendant as the basic principles of criminal law require," the statement added.
A January 30 European Union statement, issued under the aegis of the Greek presidency, raised concerns about the democratization process in Kazakhstan and called for careful review of the procedural violations. The EU pointedly referred to comments made by Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev to the effect that Duvanov's guilt had been established prior to the start of his trial.
"Ensuring that judicial processes can be conducted freely and fairly, without political interference, is of the utmost importance for establishing full trust in the rule of law," the EU commentary said. The United States echoed the EU's call for a painstaking appellate review.
Duvanov's lawyers have indicated that they plan to appeal. Relatives of the victim are reportedly also eager for a review of the sentences, charging that Duvanov's punishment was not severe enough given the nature of the crime.
Kazakhstani government representatives deny the trial was politically motivated, saying that Duvanov's prosecution was based strictly on the evidence gathered by investigators. "It is a criminal case that has nothing to do with the political activities of Mr. Duvanov," said Roman Vassilenko, first secretary of the Kazakhstani Embassy in Washington, DC.
Vassilenko also addressed the fact that news media outlets were barred from covering the trial, saying it is "standard practice" under Kazakhstani law to prevent media coverage of rape trials in order to protect the privacy of the alleged victims.
Meanwhile, Duvanov in an email letter dated January 29 and posted on the Eurasia.org.ru web site, struck a defiant note, affirming that he is prepared to serve his sentence to defend the honor of his personal convictions.
"The set-up against me is clearly based on mere revenge for my articles and public activities," Duvanov wrote, referring specifically to articles that linked Nazarbayev to illicit Swiss bank accounts. Commentators have dubbed the scandal "Kazakhgate." [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives].
"I was often told that it [Duvanov's investigative reporting] would bring me no good, that no one could criticize authority, especially the president, and get away with it," Duvanov continued. "I realized that quite well too, but could not help it.
This report contains reporting by Ibragim Alibekov.