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Kazakhstan11 March 2003

Sergei Duvanov sentenced, on appeal, to three and a half years in prison - Reporters without Borders denounces what it considers a parody of justice

On 11 March, the regional court of Taldy-Korgan (350 km from Almaty) confirmed that Sergey Duvanov, chief editor of Bulletin-a magazine published by the Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights-has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for the alleged rape of a minor.

According to our information, international observers who had asked permission to attend the hearing were denied admittance at the time that the verdict was rendered. Evgeni Zhovtis, one of the journalist’s lawyers, stated that the case file had never actually been re-examined. Reporters without Borders strongly objects to the Kazakh judicial authorities’ refusal to allow international experts to attend the trial and to the unsubstantiated way in which the sentence was upheld, despite the many irregularities that had been observed throughout the inquiry and the constant violation of defence rights during the trial.

"By denying the international observers access to Sergey Duvanov’s trial, Kazakh authorities have publicly demonstrated their contempt for judicial openness and equity. If the repression which Sergey Duvanov, as well as all members of the independent and opposition press, have had to endure in Kazakhstan has already led many to conclude that this sentence was politically motivated, such lack of transparency can only strengthen the suspicion that the charges were unfounded," stated Robert Ménard, Reporters without Borders’ General Secretary.

The European Parliament passed a resolution on 13 February demanding Duvanov’s immediate release and voicing deep concern about the investigation, prosecution and sentence. On 30 January, the US government also expressed its disquiet about the sentence. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 28 January criticised the legal irregularities and lack of evidence supporting the charges and urged the appeal court to take account of these shortcomings when it considered the case.

The editor of Bulletin, an opposition magazine published by the International Bureau for Human Rights, Duvanov was arrested on 28 October last year and accused of raping a 14-year-old girl. He had been due to fly the next day to the United States to present a report on democracy and human rights in Kazakhstan. He went on hunger strike for 10 days to protest his innocence. At a press conference at the European Commission in Brussels on 29 November, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said Duvanov’s guilt had been proved.

When Duvanov’s trial opened on 24 December, his lawyers were not allowed to examine the entire case file. Viewing the proceedings as a farce, Duvanov dismissed his lawyers on 23 January, the day after the court rejected their motion for the charges to be dropped for lack of evidence and because of the many legal irregularities.

Duvanov is one of the government’s most outspoken critics and regularly denounces the harassment of the independent media and opposition. He is also being prosecuted for "affront to the honour and dignity" of President Nazarbayev. On 28 August last year, he was beaten up by thugs and badly injured.

During a fact-finding mission to Almaty in July last year, a Reporters Without Borders representative met several times with Duvanov. He spoke of the intimidation and harassment to which he had been subjected by the authorities and predicted that they would probably accuse him in a sex or drugs scandal. "I’m still free and in good health," he said, "but this cannot last."

Kazakh human rights groups and opposition journalists say the security services often try to implicate the government’s opponents in scandals in order.

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