Human Rights Foundation (HRF) renews its call on the government of Kazakhstan to ensure the unrestricted freedom of opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, following his recent conditional release after serving nearly five years in prison. HRF calls on President Nursultan Nazarbayev to grant Kozlov a presidential pardon exempting him from any criminal liability and offering full reparation for his wrongful prosecution and imprisonment. Kozlov was the leader of the opposition party Alga! (“Forward”) at the time of his arbitrary detention in January 2012. His arrest took place shortly after briefing members of the European Parliament on the regime’s failure to investigate the deaths, torture, and ill-treatment suffered by state oil workers following a December 2011 strike in the town of Zhanaozen.
“Kozlov was convicted for exercising the fundamental right to disagree with government policy in a country where any criticism of the ruling regime could land someone in jail. Kozlov’s imprisonment was followed by an unprecedented crackdown that bulldozed any vestiges of Kazakahstan’s independent media,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “We will continue to expose Nazarbayev’s 20-year-old authoritarian regime, until opposition leaders like Kozlov and independent media like Respublika, Vzglyad, and
K-plyus are allowed to operate freely,” added Halvorssen.
Kozlov was arrested, tried, and convicted in 2012 to seven and a half years in prison for “inciting social discord,” among other charges, in a trial that fell short of international standards of due process. According to Article 76 of Kazakhstan’s Criminal Code, if Nazarbayev were to grant a presidential pardon to Kozlov, this measure would void the criminal conviction against him.
After Kozlov’s arrest, the regime banned eight newspapers and 23 websites that were accused of similar charges after covering the Zhanaozen events in a manner critical of the government. HRF condemned the wrongful prosecution of opposition leaders, including that of Vladimir Kozlov, and a series of independent media outlets. HRF also condemned the government’s failure to investigate the allegations of torture by 27 of the 37 oil workers and 10 witnesses who participated in the trials after Zhanaozen.
“The abuse of vague legislation on ‘incitement’ by authoritarian regimes around the world in order to asphyxiate dissent is pervasive. A distinction should be made between protected speech that discusses or questions the state of government affairs, including social and political conflict, and speech that purposely advocates or incites violence,” said Centa B. Rek, international legal associate at HRF. “Kazakhstan’s actions in the case of Kozlov violate international law, including the right to freedom of expression under Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said Rek.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.