Kazakhstan’s most prominent human rights activist, who is serving a controversial prison term for a traffic accident, has been denied parole in a move that his colleagues are linking to a bid to extend the rule of the country’s president.
Yevgeniy Zhovtis, head of the Almaty-based International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law and a tireless campaigner for justice, was up for parole after serving a third of his four-year sentence for vehicular manslaughter. That sentence was handed down in September 2009 after a trial widely slammed for procedural violations amid suspicions that it was politically motivated.
His parole was denied on January 18 on the grounds that he had received two reprimands while serving time and had declined to be a member of the Law and Order Section of the open prison in the eastern city of Oskemen (also known as Ust-Kamenogorsk), in which he is serving his sentence. As Zhovtis pointed out at the parole hearing, being a member of that body is not a legal requirement, but the prison board found that he had not “set out on the path of redemption” and needs to continue serving his sentence.
That finding, the International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law said in a statement, is legal nonsense, since Zhovtis is serving a sentence over what no-one -- including the prosecution at his trial -- denies was a total accident that occurred when his car hit a pedestrian on a country road at night.
The human rights bureau accused the prison administration of bias and denounced the denial of parole as an “absolutely illegal act which again proves the political component of this criminal case.” Zhovtis has previously accused prison governors of unfair treatment, saying that he’s been denied the right to work in his own profession, which he enjoys under the rules of the open prison system, and offered unsuitable employment within the prison.
Zhovtis’s human rights organization went on to suggest that the decision to keep him behind bars was linked to a bid to extend the rule of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to 2020, which is expected to be put to a public vote soon.
“Evidently, this is linked to the fact that in the run-up to the referendum on extending the powers of the current president of Kazakhstan, the authorities fear a free Zhovtis. With his principled nature in standing up for the rights and freedoms of citizens, he is today dangerous as never before for those who are trying to deprive all the citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan of their constitutional right to elect and be elected,” the bureau said.