Independent journalist sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison

New York, January 30, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disappointed by the prison term handed down on January 28 to prominent independent journalist Sergei Duvanov by the Karasaisky District Court in the southern city of Almaty.

The court sentenced Duvanov to three-and-a-half years in prison for allegedly raping a minor. Duvanov’s colleagues and defense attorneys maintain that the journalist is innocent, and that Kazakh authorities fabricated the case against him to muzzle a critical voice. Duvanov, who turned 50 years old yesterday, is known for his criticism of Kazakh officials, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

“This seriously flawed trial and conviction appears to be designed to attack Duvanov because of his critical reporting about official corruption in Kazakhstan,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon. “We remain skeptical of the charges and the evidence against Duvanov, and we urge an appeals court to clear Duvanov and set him free.”

Throughout the investigation and the trial, Duvanov’s attorneys protested numerous procedural violations in court. U.S. diplomats and officials from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a Vienna-based international organization, monitored the trial and expressed their concern regarding the lack of due process in the case.

Last week, Duvanov dismissed his defense attorneys, claiming their efforts were futile because his trial is a farce prearranged by Kazakh authorities. Nevertheless, Yevgeny Zhovtis, a member of Duvanov’s defense team, told CPJ that the lawyers are planning to file an appeal. “The prosecution’s arguments are worthless,” he said. Under Kazakhstan’s law, Duvanov has 10 days to appeal the guilty verdict.

Duvanov was detained in late October 2002, the day before he was to travel to the United States to speak about press freedom conditions in Kazakhstan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and at the U.S. government­funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) office in Washington, D.C. He was also scheduled to speak at the Open Society Institute in New York City. The journalist has remained in detention since his arrest. His trial began on December 24, 2002.

Duvanov, who writes for opposition-financed Web sites and is the editor-in-chief of a bulletin published by the Almaty-based Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, is known for his biting criticism of Kazakhstan’s political system and high-level officials, including Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Authorities have frequently harassed him in reprisal for his work.

On the evening of August 28, three unknown assailants beat and stabbed Duvanov in the stairwell of his apartment building, saying of his work, “If you carry on, you’ll be made a total cripple.”

On July 9, the General Prosecutor’s Office charged Duvanov with “infringing the honor and dignity of the president,” a criminal offense that carries a penalty of a fine or a maximum three-year prison sentence, after he accused President Nazarbayev of corruption in an article.