Zhovtis is spending the leave with his family in a rented apartment in the eastern city of Oskemen (Ust-Kamenogorsk in Russian), where the prison in which he’s serving a four-year sentence for causing the accidental death of a pedestrian in a traffic accident is located.
His imprisonment in September 2009 caused a furor among international human rights activists. They support Zhovtis’ allegations that he received exceptionally harsh treatment as a reprisal for his campaigning. The authorities firmly deny the charge.
Since his imprisonment Zhovtis has complained of being subjected to unfair treatment that violate the terms of what is effectively an open prison. He says his movements have been subjected to greater restrictions than those of other prisoners, and he was denied the right he theoretically enjoys to work in his own field: Instead of allowing Zhovtis, a lawyer, to work in the Oskemen branch of the International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, prison authorities employed him as a storekeeper.
Zhovtis hasn’t let his legal training go to waste in prison, though – he’s been providing legal advice and fighting cases for fellow prisoners.
In January he was denied parole on the grounds that he hadn’t “set out on the path of redemption.” He’s next eligible in January 2012.
However, Zhovtis has a chance of walking free before then under a prisoner amnesty planned for later this year to mark Kazakhstan’s 20th anniversary of independence.
“To a certain degree I assess [the granting of furlough] as a landmark,” he told Vremya. “This may be linked to the upcoming amnesty, which I am, incidentally, eligible for.”