Solidarity visit of detained human rights defender Evgeny Zhovtis

Press release

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), undertook a visit of Mr. Evgeny Zhovtis in prison. Mr. Zhovtis is a founding member and the Director of the Kazakhstan International Human Rights and the Rule of Law Bureau, as well as a member of the Council of Experts of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) under the Organisation on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in charge of freedom of assembly[1].

Concerned by the situation of Mr. Evgeny Zhovtis, the Observatory, represented by Mr. Ales Bialatski, FIDH Vice President and President of the Belarusian Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, carried out on July 1, 2010 a visit of Mr. Zhovtis, detained in the penitentiary colony of Ust-Kamenogorsk, in North-East Kazakhstan, 1,000 km away from his residence in Almaty. The purpose of this visit was to express international support to Mr. Zhovtis, who was convicted in 2009 following criminal proceedings marred with violations of the right to due process and fair trial.

At the end of the mission, Mr. Ales Bialatski declared that “the ongoing detention of Evgeny Zhovtis as well as the conditions he faces in that framework remain preoccupying”. Mr. Bialatski stressed that Mr. Zhovtis was subjected to stricter detention conditions than his prison inmates, and was de facto isolated. “He is among the few ones who is denied the right to work outside of the colony during the day. Mr. Zhovtis is forced to stay within the detention facilities, where he was given the “responsibility” to look after an inactive warehouse of the colony. This would be risible if this was not so tragic”. According to Mr. Bialatski, detention practices inherited from the past, with tough wake up, sleeping and meal hours to be strictly followed, are also difficult to bear for a person over 50 years’ old. “Mr. Zhovtis has even no right to lie down before the lights are turned off”.

Mr. Zhovtis has been detained since September 2009 for “traffic accident triggering death”. On April 26, 2010, the Supreme Court eventually rejected the appeal of his lawyer to initiate review proceedings. Mr. Zhovtis then decided not to make use of his possibility to independently appeal to the Supreme Court with a petition for the review of this sentence to the Office of the Prosecutor General, considering that no independent review would be possible in the current context.

Over the past years, Mr. Zhovtis has been working on national legislations in order to bring them in compliance with international standards, in particular with the Copenhagen Document. The Observatory is convinced that his activities have motivated the disproportionate character of the sentence against him, following hearings where numerous fair trial standards were blatantly violated. The Observatory also wishes to stress upon that the Kazakh OSCE Chairmanship shall normally have a special responsibility to make sure that the OSCE human rights commitments are respected, all the more as we celebrate this year the 20th anniversary of the Copenhagen Document.

The Observatory denounces the ongoing detention of Mr. Evgeny Zhovtis, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release, as his sentence was not issued following fair trial requirements provided in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - which Kazakhstan ratified on January 24, 2006 - the OSCE Copenhagen Document, and as the harshness of his sentencing seems to be merely aiming at sanctioning his human rights activities, in violation of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.


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