Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [press release] the government of Kazakhstan on Wednesday to ensure that the upcoming trials of two political activists and an oil worker comport with international legal standards for fair trials. Two opposition movement leaders, Vladimir Kozlov and Serik Sapargaly, as well as oil worker Akzhanat Aminov all face charges of "inciting social discord." The charges stem from a clash in December between police and a group of demonstrators led by oil workers who went on strike. In the press release, HRW Central Asia researcher Mihra Rittmann [official profile] declared that because the Kazakhstan government has not been forthright in specifying the charges against the three defendants, transparency is necessary to ensure that the defendants get a fair trial:
Given the secrecy surrounding the investigation, it is critical that the Kazakhstan authorities ensure the proceedings against Kozlov, Sapargaly, and Aminov strictly adhere to international fair-trial standards. The trial should be open to observers, held in an official language that all the defendants can understand, and the defendants should be allowed to challenge evidence presented against them and cross-examine witnesses.The trial for Kozlov, Sapargaly and Aminov began on Thursday.
Kazakhstan [JURIST news archive] has drawn criticism recently from the international community for its human rights record. In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for an independent probe [JURIST report] into the December unrest between oil workers and an oil company. In June HRW demanded [JURIST report] that the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan [official website] publicly disclose the reason for bringing new charges against a group of labor activists and an oil worker who participated in the December unrest. The committee charged them with "calling for the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order." Earlier that month a court in the country sentenced [JURIST report] 13 out of 37 defendants to between three and seven years of imprisonment for their participation in the December unrest. Sixteen of the remaining defendants faced conditional sentences [BBC report] while five defendants were given amnesty and three were acquitted. During the trial, relatives of defendants threw bottles at the judge, claiming that the defendants were subject to torture during the investigation. In April 47 individuals were sentenced [JURIST report] to 15 years imprisonment for their involvement in terrorist attacks and financing extremist activities. However, the trial and information pertaining to it were not entirely accessible to the public, and the lack of transparency has raised concerns of possible human rights violations. In October, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website, in Kazakh; BBC profile] signed [JURIST report] into law a bill dissolving religious organizations and requiring re-registration. This new bill and its endorsement by the president drew a number of criticisms that the law unnecessarily limits the freedom of religion.