Court upholds journalist’s prison sentence

New York, March 11, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disappointed that today’s decision by Kazakhstan’s Almaty Regional Court in the city of Taldykorgan, north of Almaty, upheld the prison sentence of prominent independent journalist Sergei Duvanov.

On January 28, Almaty’s Karasaisky District Court sentenced Duvanov to three-and-a-half years in prison for allegedly raping a minor. In addition, today’s ruling changed the criminal code article under which Duvanov was convicted from rape (Article 120, part 1) to deliberate rape of a minor (Article 120, part 2)—a much more serious offense under Kazakh law, Yevgeny Zhovtis, a member of Duvanov’s defense team, told CPJ.

Duvanov’s colleagues and defense attorneys maintain that the journalist is innocent, and that authorities fabricated the case against him to muzzle his work. Duvanov is known for his intense criticism of Kazakh officials, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Today’s hearings were closed to international observers. During the January trial, U.S. diplomats and officials from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who were allowed to monitor the court sessions, expressed concern regarding the lack of due process in the case.

Duvanov’s defense lawyers plan to appeal today’s ruling.

“CPJ remains skeptical of the charges against Duvanov,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon. “We call on the Kazakh government to ensure that future proceedings follow internationally recognized standards of due process.”

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 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, and his trial began on December 24, 2002.

Duvanov, who writes for opposition-financed Web sites, is also the editor-in-chief of a bulletin published by the Almaty-based Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. 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.”