28 March 2012

IFEX members help get editor out of jail

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Independent editor Igor Vinyavsky, who was jailed on politically motivated charges of inciting hatred in Kazakhstan, has been released - in large part due to the efforts of IFEX members, reports the International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech in Kazakhstan (Adil Soz).

Vinyavsky, the editor-in-chief of the weekly "Vzglyad", one of the few independent national newspapers in Kazakhstan, was released from a pre-trial detention centre in Almaty on 15 March.

Kazakhstan's security services said his arrest on 23 January was part of a criminal investigation into incitement of social hatred during events in Zhanaozen. But his indictment was on charges related to leaflets seized nearly two years ago that allegedly call for violent overthrow of the current Kazakh government.

He was serving two months of pre-trial detention, and faced jail time of up to seven years if convicted.

Twenty-eight IFEX members, including Adil Soz, sent a letter to the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Kazakhstan in February, calling for Vinyavsky's immediate release. IFEX members said authorities used the charges as an attempt to silence his critical views, and possibly in reprisal for reporting on violent clashes between sacked oil workers and police that took place in December 2011 in Zhanaozen.

"Thanks to tireless work and to the joint efforts of the international organisations, Igor Vinyavsky was released," said Adil Soz.

Violent clashes between police and civilians in the oil-rich town of Zhanaozen at the site of an ongoing oil workers' strike on 16 December ended with 14 dead and hundreds arrested. All communications with Zhanaozen were shut down and some websites in Kazakhstan, including Twitter, were blocked for five days following the clashes.

The authorities have been quick to place blame on outspoken oil workers and opposition activists for organising or instigating the violence, raising concerns about the impartiality of the authorities' investigation. Yesterday, 37 people went on trial on charges of organising and participating in the mass unrest, says Human Rights Watch.

Vinyavsky's release came the same day that the European Parliament adopted a resolution criticising the Kazakh authorities for detaining him and other activists. It also reiterated that unrestricted access to information and communication and uncensored access to the Internet "are indispensable for human rights such as free expression and access to information, as well as for ensuring transparency and accountability in public life."

Earlier, Kazak authorities also commuted the six-year jail sentence of union lawyer Natalia Sokolova, reducing it to a three-year suspended sentence. Sokolova had been charged of "inciting social discord" and "actively participating in illegal gatherings" for supporting oil workers' rights, reports Human Rights Watch.

Evgeny Zhovtis, the director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law and an internationally acclaimed human rights defender, was also recently amnestied, says Adil Soz. He spent two and a half years in jail and was released on 17 February.

According to Adil Soz, Vinyavsky, who was pardoned but not acquitted, says his pro-reform political views have not changed. Vinyavsky's lawyer says that since the pardon was granted prior to the trial, Vinyavsky will have no criminal record and can continue his professional activities.

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Also from the Communiqué, 28 March 2012

| INTERNATIONAL | : Index on Censorship opens up archive to mark 40th birthday, announces free expression award winners 28 March 2012 | SYRIA | : On eve of peace plan, three more journalists killed 28 March 2012 | BAHRAIN | : At least 31 extrajudicial killings since official commission of inquiry, says Bahrain Center for Human Rights 28 March 2012 | SRI LANKA | : State media outlets label journalists "traitors" 28 March 2012 | MALI | : Independent media one of the first casualties in coup 28 March 2012 | EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA | : Reporters Without Borders demands access to Europe's migrant detention centres 28 March 2012
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