Three political activists – Vladimir Kozlov, Serik Sapargaly and Akzhanat Aminov – are on trial at Aktau, western Kazakhstan. Verdicts are expected in the week starting 22 September.
Legal observers and trade union activists fear that the authorities are seeking convictions for political purposes.
The criminal charges brought against the defendants are based mainly on their political activities, which the authorities claim incited the violent riots in the western oil city of Zhanaozen last December.
Zhanaozen was the centre of a long-running strike by oil workers, which ended after a massacre of strikers by police, on 16 December, that left at least 16 dead and 64 wounded.
Already, 12 trade union activists are serving sentences of between two and six years. Appeals against sentencing were turned down last month, in some cases despite the presentation of detailed evidence of torture in pre-trial detention.
Due to the lack of opportunities for Kazakh civil society to cover the trial proceedings – because of the climate of intimidation and clampdown on the opposition – it is vital for the international community to support lawyers in Kazakhstan. If you or your organisation can help, please contact:
Open Democracy Foundation, Warsaw (which is monitoring human rights abuses) –
Solicitors International Human Rights Group, London (which is monitoring the trials) –
Trade union activists –
What the trial is about
In January, the Prosecutor General’s Office alleged that the main reason behind the riots was the actions of individuals who urged laid-off workers to continue protests and confront the government.
Vladimir Kozlov and Akzhanat Aminov were charged with inciting public discord (Article 164, part 3 of the Criminal Code); calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order (Article 170, part 2); and establishing and leading an organized criminal group (Article 235, part 1). Serik Sapargaly was charged under Articles 164, part 3 and 170, part 2 (BNews.kz, August 16).
Kozlov and Sapargaly were arrested in Almaty in January and transferred to a pre-trial detention facility in Aktau in May. Aminov was detained in February in Zhanaozen. If convicted, they face prison sentences of up to 12 years. Kozlov and Aminov may be imprisoned for up to 19 years as they are also charged under Article 235.
On the first day of the trial, Kozlov denied all charges, but Aminov pleaded guilty and Sapargaly admitted some responsibility for the Zhanaozen events.
The 1400 pages of documents presented to Aktau criminal court contain an extended record of political speeches, statements, and writings of the defendants going back ten years. These files may prove that Kozlov, Sapargaly, and Aminov are opponents of the government and have expressed their opinion using their right to free speech.
The prosecutors will have to prove a direct connection between the defendants’ actions and the riots that goes beyond the defendants’ political convictions. The prosecutors will need to present convincing material evidence such as money transfer documents, video and audio recordings in which plans for violence are discussed, as well as written proclamations inciting violence. Otherwise, the trial would be considered a political clampdown on the opposition and could resonate negatively on the government with the Kazakhstani public and the international community.
The trial is being monitored by an independent trial observation mission of Solicitors International Human Rights Group (London). The hearings were attended by Markus Loning, German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid and the representatives of Polish Parliament.
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