Restrictions lifted against journalist

New York, August 17, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is pleased that restrictions have been lifted against journalist Sergei Duvanov, who was released from prison on probation in January.

Yesterday, August 16, a district court in Kazakhstan’s industrial capital, Almaty, lifted the restrictions, which included handing over a portion of his salary to the state; reporting weekly to authorities; and being banned from leaving Almaty or making public appearances.

Duvanov, a prominent 50-year-old opposition journalist, was convicted in January 2003 of allegedly raping a minor in a politicized trial marred by procedural inconsistencies.

Tamara Kaleyeva, president of the Almaty-based media organization Adil Soz, pointed out that yesterday’s ruling was not an acquittal. “Duvanov is still considered a convict and his release is conditional,” she told CPJ.

Yevgeny Zhovtis, president of the Amaty-based Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, told CPJ that Duvanov’s release carries one restriction: As a convicted rapist, the journalist cannot attend public events for youth. Zhovtis, who is also a member of Duvanov’s defense team, said that his organization intends to appeal this condition.

Duvanov, who writes for opposition-financed Web sites and is the editor-in-chief of a bulletin published by the Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, is known for his sharp criticism of Kazakhstan’s senior government officials, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Authorities have frequently harassed him in reprisal for his work.

Duvanov was arrested on October 27, 2002, on suspicions of raping a minor. He was officially charged on November 6 with raping a 14-year-old girl. The charges came just as Duvanov was preparing to leave for the United States, where he was scheduled to give a series of talks at Washington, D.C.– and New York–based think tanks about political conditions in Kazakhstan.

Two months prior to his arrest, on the evening of August 28, 2002, three unknown assailants beat and stabbed Duvanov in the strairwell of his apartment building, saying of his work: “If you carry on, you’ll be left a total cripple.”

In a separate case, on July 9, 2002, the General Prosecutor’s Office charged Duvanov with “infringing the honor and dignity of the president,” a criminal offense punishable by a fine or a maximum three-year prison sentence. The charge came after he accused President Nazarbayev of corruption in an article. Authorities later dropped that case without any explanation.

Duvanov’s trial on the rape charges began on December 24, 2002, and ended on January 28, 2003. He was convicted and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. Duvanov’s defense team appealed the conviction, but both the Almaty Regional Court and the Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

After 14 months in prison, the Kapchagay District Court ruled on December 29, 2003, that Duvanov could serve the rest of his term in a low-security labor camp. The journalist was transferred to a labor camp that same day.

On January 15, 2004, Duvanov was released from the labor camp on probation with restrictions for good behavior. He was allowed to return to his home in Almaty and work at his job as an editor at the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law.