The appeal of journalist Sergei Duvanov against his 28 January conviction for the alleged rape of a minor will be heard on 11 March. Duvanov was sentenced to three and half years in prison after an investigation and trial marred by many irregularities and violations of his rights as a defendant.
Reporters Without Borders today called on the authorities of Kazakhstan to finally let justice be done when the regional court of Taldy-Korgan (350 km. from Almaty) on 11 March hears the appeal of journalist Sergei Duvanov against his 28 January conviction for the alleged rape of a minor, for which he received a sentence of three and half years in prison. "The Kazakh authorities should bear in mind that Sergei Duvanov's appeal is a democratic test for their country, and that they still have a chance to show their support for due process," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "The harassment to which Duvanov and all the independent and opposition media are subjected in Kazakhstan would suggest that this case is politically motivated," Ménard said. "The Kazakh judicial system has not so far dealt with Duvanov in a fair and open manner. On the contrary, there were many irregularities in the investigation and constant violation of defence rights during the trial itself." The European Parliament passed a resolution on 13 February demanding Duvanov's immediate release and voicing deep concern about the investigation, prosecution and sentence. On 30 January, the US government also expressed its disquiet about the sentence. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 28 January criticised the legal irregularities and lack of evidence supporting the charges and urged the appeal court to take account of these shortcomings when it considered the case. The editor of Bulletin, an opposition magazine published by the International Bureau for Human Rights, Duvanov was arrested on 28 October last year and accused of raping a 14-year-old girl. He had been due to fly the next day to the United States to present a report on democracy and human rights in Kazakhstan. He went on hunger strike for 10 days to protest his innocence. At a press conference at the European Commission in Brussels on 29 November, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said Duvanov's guilt had been proved. When Duvanov's trial opened on 24 December, his lawyers were not allowed to examine the entire case file. Viewing the proceedings as a farce, Duvanov dismissed his lawyers on 23 January, the day after the court rejected their motion for the charges to be dropped for lack of evidence and because of the many legal irregularities. Duvanov is one of the government's most outspoken critics and regularly denounces the harassment of the independent media and opposition. He is also being prosecuted for "affront to the honour and dignity" of President Nazarbayev. On 28 August last year, he was beaten up by thugs and badly injured. During a fact-finding mission to Almaty in July last year, a Reporters Without Borders representative met several times with Duvanov. He spoke of the intimidation and harassment to which he had been subjected by the authorities and predicted that they would probably accuse him in a sex or drugs scandal. "I'm still free and in good health," he said, "but this cannot last." Kazakh human rights groups and opposition journalists say the security services often try to implicate the government's opponents in scandals in order.