Thursday, August 16, 2012 -
The trial of vociferous Kazakh opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov got underway in a regional court in western Kazakhstan on Thursday.
Kozlov, head of the unregistered Alga (Forward) opposition party, is charged with urging the violent overthrow of Kazakhstan’s constitution, inciting hatred, and forming and operating a criminal group.
Two others – People’s Front member Serik Sapargaly and strike leader Akzhanat Aminov – are also on trial with Kozlov.
He says the charges against him are a politically motivated attempt by highest-level Kazakh figures to subvert his political activities.
The hearing is taking place in the city of Aktau, provincial capital of Mangistau where a lengthy strike by oil workers in the town of Zhanaozen last year erupted into violence leaving 17 citizens dead at the hands of police and security forces.
Kozlov was jailed in January 2012 for his supposed involvement in the deadly clashes between the demonstrators and police.
He faces a 10-year prison sentence and confiscation of all his property, which includes the political party’s assets.
As Kozlov is the most vocal opponent against strong-man President Nursultan Nazarbayev, his conviction would handily remove the Kazakh leader’s greatest political adversary.
International human rights groups and the U.S. have called for a fair trial.
“Given the secrecy surrounding the investigation, it is critical that the Kazakhstan authorities ensure the proceedings against Kozlov, Sapargaly, and Aminov strictly adhere to the international fair-trial standards,” Human Rights Watch researcher Mihra Rittman said on Wednesday.
“The trial should be open to observers, held in an official language that all the defendants can understand, and the defendants should be allowed to challenge evidence presented against them and cross-examine witnesses.”
U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affair Robert Blake, who is in Central Asia to meet with local leaders, said Kazakhstan has a “particular responsibility” to ensure a fair trial, given the country’s recent role as Chairman for the pro-democracy Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“We also hope that the trial itself will not undermine some of the progress that Kazakhstan is making to develop a multi-party democracy.”