Kazakhstan Tightens Screws on Jailed Opposition Leader
Imprisoned opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov has been targeted for harsh punitive measures for alleged violations of prison rules, including “speaking ill” of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, his wife told EurasiaNet.org on July 27.
The timing of the punishment could be intended to deny parole eligibility to Kozlov, who is serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence on charges of fomenting fatal violence in western Kazakhstan in 2011 and plotting to overthrow the state.
Aliya Turusbekova told EurasiaNet.org that prison authorities have characterized her husband as a “persistent offender” and transferred him “to a strict-regime cellblock” on July 27.
Kozlov is accused of “threatening the [work] team leader with physical reprisals and speaking ill of the country’s president,” she explained, citing information she received from his lawyer. The change in his status means greater restrictions on telephone calls, visits and parcels, Turusbekova said.
An official at the prison colony in Zarechniy in south-eastern Kazakhstan, where Kozlov is being held, declined to confirm or deny the change in status when contacted by EurasiaNet.org. “We do not give out any information by telephone,” the official said, before hanging up.
Kozlov briefly declared a hunger strike last week in protest at his treatment after he was placed in solitary confinement, the Open Dialog Foundation, a Poland-based human rights watchdog, said on July 21.
The watchdog added that Kozlov is suffering from health problems in jail, where he has been held in cramped conditions and forced to stand for long periods in temperatures approaching 50 degrees Celsius.
Kozlov’s transfer could affect his chances of parole when he becomes eligible for consideration upon completion of half of his sentence later this year.
Last year, his request for transfer to a lighter detention regime was refused on the grounds of alleged breaches of prison regulations.
The tactic of citing violations of prison rules to deny parole is a familiar one in post-Soviet penitentiary systems.
It was used to keep one of Russia’s highest profile prisoners, fallen tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, behind bars for years until his eventual release in 2012.
Kozlov has always denied government accusations that he orchestrated the unrest in the town of Zhanaozen, which marked the violent climax of a protracted oil strike and left 15 dead in clashes with security forces, according to the official death toll.
Kozlov was not present in Zhanaozen at the time of the disturbances, but the government claims he was whipping up strikers with the ultimate aim of overthrowing Nazarbayev.
His imprisonment caused an international outcry. The US government expressed concern about the “apparent use of the criminal system to silence opposition voices” and the European Parliament urged Kazakhstan to release Kozlov.
Astana denies the case is politically motivated and has permitted international organizations such as the UN to visit Kozlov in jail.