Zhovtis released as others taken into custody
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was delighted to learn Friday that prominent Kazakhstani human rights defender Evgeniy Zhovtis was finally released from prison in Ust-Kamenogorsk. Having been amnestied after serving 2,5 years in prison following a highly politicized trial in 2009, Zhovtis can now rejoin his family, friends and colleagues in Almaty.
Evgeniy Zhovtis has been an outstanding promoter of human rights and democratic principles in Kazakhstan for years. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee awarded the 2010 Sakharov Freedom Award to Zhovtis and his organization, the Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. While Zhovtis could not attend the ceremony, his colleagues came to Oslo to receive the award.
-While I understand that Evgeniy would like to take some time to relax with those closest to him, I know that I am joined by many in hoping to see him actively participating in the human rights community as soon as he feels ready. I would like to extend my warmest regards to him, and of course to invite him to Norway, said Secretary General Bjørn Engesland, who has visited Zhovtis in the prison colony in Ust-Kamenogorsk on two occasions.
While Zhovtis’ release is a long-awaited and welcome event, it occurs as a campaign of crack-downs on journalists, activists and political opposition in Kazakhstan is also taking place. Following the tragic events in Zhanaozen, where at least 17 people were killed, authorities have arrested a number of people on charges of inciting social unrest and of conspiring to overthrow the government. Among those currently held in the detention center of the National Security Committee (KNB) in Almaty is journalist and editor of the Vzglyad newspaper, Igor Vinyavskiy, whose supporters hold weekly demonstrations.
Vinyavskiy was arrested on 26 January 2012. The official reason for his arrest was leaflets found in his car two years prior, encouraging regime change in Kazakhstan. While authorities claim the leaflets promoted the overthrow of the government through violent means, journalists and observers have dubbed the accusations absurd and link Vinyavskiy’s arrest to those of several other politically active individuals in the wake of the Zhanaozen tragedy. Over the last month, security services have interrogated several journalists and politicians, confiscated technical equipment at editorial offices and placed several people under arrest. These developments are followed closely by the human rights community in Kazakhstan and internationally.
-While we celebrate Zhovtis’ release, we must also remember those who are currently under severe pressure, said Engesland. – We call on Kazakhstani authorities to recall their commitments and to guarantee freedom of the press and the right to assembly.
Upon his release, Evgeniy Zhovtis thanked his colleagues in Kazakhstan and abroad for their support, and expressed his own support to several activists and politicians currently under arrest, such as Nataliya Sokolova and Aron Atabek, as well as to Vladimir Kozlov, Serik Sapargali, Ayzhangul Amirova and Igor Vinyavskiy, who have all been taken into custody following the Zhanaozen events.