A court in Kazakhstan has rejected the appeal of opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, who was jailed last month in a trial widely condemned as politicized.
Tengri News reports that Kozlov lost the November 19 appeal against his seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence. He had been found guilty of stoking unrest that left 15 dead last year in Zhanaozen, according to official figures, and plotting the overthrow of the state.
Kozlov, leader of the unregistered Alga! party, has taken the political rap for violence which erupted on December 16 as Kazakhstan marked its 20th anniversary of independence. The authorities allege he urged violence by politicizing a protracted oil strike that Astana acknowledges was mishandled.
Ahead of his appeal state television aired a vitriolic program accusing Kozlov of being a manipulative criminal who allegedly channeled millions of dollars into Kazakhstan from Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive Kazakh oligarch who is on the run from British justice, in a bid to destabilize the state.
Kozlov and Ablyazov deny the accusations, and Kozlov has argued that he only engaged in legitimate political opposition.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) described his imprisonment as “a blow to freedom of expression and political pluralism in Kazakhstan.”
“Kozlov’s conviction is unsound, given that the charges against him are vague and overbroad and are fundamentally incompatible with human rights treaties Kazakhstan has signed,” Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia director, said ahead of the appeal hearing.
Advocacy groups including HRW and Freedom House have expressed concern that Kozlov was targeted for his political activities and said there were violations of due process at his trial.
When Kozlov was sentenced last month Washington also spoke out, voicing its “concern” about “the apparent use of the criminal system to silence opposition voices.”
Astana has denied targeting Kozlov for political reasons. His imprisonment was the “result of an impartial and objective investigation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Altay Abibullayev said last month, and “the legal basis for political pluralism is fully in place in Kazakhstan.”
The government says all the Zhanaozen-related trials were fair. In addition to Kozlov, 17 civilians and six police officers have been jailed for their roles in the unrest.