According to published reports, Duvanov denied the accusation, explaining that he gave neighbors permission to use the sauna located at his summer residence, or dacha. The neighbors brought along their daughter and one of her friends, both minors, Duvanov added. Following the neighbors' departure, Duvanov used the sauna and later drank tea that he claimed contained some sort of agent that rendered him unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he was in police custody.
Duvanov's US-based attorney, Charles Both, described the rape accusation as "fabricated and improbable." He said in an interview with EurasiaNet that there were discrepancies in the official "sequence of events" that "suggest someone knew about it [Duvanov's detention] before it happened."
Both referred specifically to a document distributed by city Interior Ministry personnel in Almaty on October 28. Officials presented the document as a press release, but it appears to be a set of talking points instructing law-enforcement officials on how to deal with media questions concerning the Duvanov investigation. The document stresses that the investigation is ongoing and "all of S. Duvanov's constitutional rights are being observed."
There is writing on the document apparently fax identification information at the top of the page that says in English "From: Press Service of the President," and shows a phone number belonging to the presidential administration. This suggests that the supposed Interior Ministry press release may have originated from within the presidential administration. Both called attention to the fact that the time specified on the fax ID is 6:48 am on October 28, which was approximately two hours before Duvanov was taken into custody.
"Someone [a Kazakhstani official] should explain this inconsistency," Both said. "In a civil society, this is what would happen." The presidential press service has declined to comment, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Observers say the Nazarbayev administration had a motive to set the journalist up. Duvanov, who was detained shortly before he was scheduled to travel to the United States, is an outspoken critic of the president. He had written about Nazarbayev's alleged involvement in a bribery case that is under investigation by the US Justice Department. [For background see the EurasiaNet Business and Economics archive]. In August, unidentified assailants severely beat Duvanov in an attack that many human rights advocates believe was a government attempt to intimidate him. [For background see the EurasiaNet Human Rights archive].
One Washington-based supporter of Duvanov said the investigative journalist intended to use his US tour to raise awareness about government corruption and the possible misuse of Kazakhstan's oil fund, which is designed to set aside a certain amount of energy-sector profits to fund social welfare projects. Duvanov's detention is designed to prevent him from discussing such sensitive topics in the West, said the observer, who spoke on condition that his name not be used.
"No one knows how oil money is being distributed," the observer said. "This is one of the biggest secrets in Kazakhstan."
Duvanov was scheduled to give a series of talks in late October and early November, hosted by think-tanks and human rights organizations in both Washington, DC and New York. Among his scheduled speaking venues was the New York-based Open Society Institute, with which EurasiaNet is affiliated. Duvanov was also scheduled to speak at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's offices in Washington.
Another expert on Kazakhstani affairs agreed that Duvanov's detention was likely a "dastardly deed" designed to serve as an warning to the government's domestic opponents not to "hang our dirty laundry in the West."
While the government's motives may seem self-evident, some observers are reluctant to reach definitive conclusions, given the complicated nature of the accusation. Yet, regardless of the circumstances surrounding Duvanov's case, the Kazakhstani government has been using "sophisticated and harsh instruments to silence prominent opposition figures," said Martha Brill Olcott, Carnegie Endowment specialist on Central Asia. [For additional information see the EurasiaNet Business and Economics archive].
"They [Kazakhstani authorities] have widened their repertoire [of repressing government opponents]. One can only wonder if this is a set-up," Olcott said. "If the Kazakh government had not been behaving this way, it [the Duvanov investigation] would be easier to accept at face value."
US government reaction to Duvanov's detention has been restrained. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington possessed insufficient information to comment. Boucher, however, recognized a "pattern of harassment and abuses of journalists" in Kazakhstan.
"We have regularly raised these concerns with the [Kazakhstani] government," Boucher said. "I am sorry to say the string of abuses has continued