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09 June 2023

Kazakhstan frees top rights activist under amnesty


Kazakhstan on Wednesday agreed to free under an amnesty ruling a top rights activist whose jailing over a deadly car accident had sparked international condemnation, a judicial official said.

A court in the eastern city of Ust-Kamenogorsk ordered the release of Yevgeny Zhovtis under law on an amnesty for convicts in lesser cases that marked the twentieth anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence.

The ruling was issued by judge Aybek Amirgaliyev, his aide Nazigul Akimbekova told AFP by telephone.

Zhovtis was sentenced in 2009 to four years in jail on manslaughter charges after hitting a pedestrian with his car.

However the defence had argued that Zhovtis had been blinded by the headlights of an oncoming car while the pedestrian had been walking along a road at night.

Human Rights Watch and other global organisations had raised grave concerns over the conduct of his trial and described his jailing as a huge blow to the cause of the human rights in Kazakhstan.

According to judge Amirgaliyev, Zhovtis will be freed after 15 more days in detention.

Zhovtis was head of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, which was founded in 1993.

The decision to release him comes just after courts handed short administrative jail terms to six critics of strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in what activists say is part of a new crackdown on the opposition.