Kozlov Case File: Final Monitoring Report on the Trial of Vladimir Kozlov, Akzhanat Aminov, and Serik Sapargali

Freedom House’s final monitoring report on the trial of Kazakhstani opposition activists Vladimir Kozlov and Akzhanat Aminov, and labor activist Serik Sapargali documents additional violations of the right to a fair trial. The defendants were convicted of inciting social hatred leading to violence on December 16, 2011, when law enforcement killed at least a dozen protesters in the western town of Zhanaozen.

Kozlov Case File,  based on continuous monitoring throughout the trial, demonstrates that the trial did not meet international and national standards of the right to a fair trial and impartial justice. In addition to numerous procedural violations documented by Freedom House’s expert monitor, analysis of the verdict shows that the court’s decision relied on broad interpretations of the law to criminalize normal political activities. Most glaringly, the verdict held that Kozlov incited “social hatred” against the government by creating a “negative image and stereotype of the authorities.” The verdict included as fact numerous allegations that were not examined in court.

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Executive Summary:

The trial of Vladimir Kozlov, Serik Sapargali, and Akzhanat Aminov did not meet international and national standards of the rights to a fair trial and impartial justice on the basis of the law.

The primary charge under Article 164 of inciting social hatred rested upon an interpretation of the law holding that “the authorities” (vlast’) constitute a social group analogous to a race, tribe, religion, or class. According to Article 9 of Kazakhstan’s Criminal Code, “the use of criminal law by analogy is forbidden.” This novel interpretation may be used to criminalize opposition activity or statements critical of the authorities in Kazakhstan.

The charge under Article 170, calling for violent change of the constitutional order, is not supported by evidence. The prosecution presented no evidence that Kozlov ever publicly called for violent actions or the violent overthrow of the constitutional order. In its verdict, the court relied instead on expert interpretation of ambiguous texts alleged to be produced by Kozlov.

The interpretations of the experts who found signs of incitement of social hatred and calls for the violent change of the constitutional order are suspect because they 1) work in state institutions and are therefore dependent upon the state authorities and 2) were only presented for analysis select phrases from the evidence gathered. Analyzing phrases in isolation allowed them to be interpreted out of context, as was clearly established during defense examination of the experts in the court.

Exiled oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who was described without evidence in the verdict as creating and financing the criminal group responsible for most of the crimes committed, was neither tried nor called as a witness in the case. That Ablyazov was omitted from those charged or called as witnesses indicates that the case was conducted in an arbitrary and prejudicial manner. Furthermore, the indictment refers to him at least five times as “the accused Ablyazov,” indicating that at some point he may have been included in the charges.

The re-broadcast on state television of a documentary film shown by the prosecution in its closing argument immediately following the reading of the verdict strongly indicates collusion between political actors, prosecutors, and the court.

Although evidence was presented that member of the party Alga Bolat Atabaev held conversations with unknown individuals who intended to cause violence in Zhanaozen, the court never established that these people did cause violence on December 16th, 2011; that Atabaev, Kozlov, or any other person paid, directed, or asked such people to cause violence on December 16th, 2011; or even who these people were. Without establishing how Kozlov and his co-defendants helped started the violence on December 16th, 2011, the aspect of the charges “leading to grievous consequences” lacks substance.

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