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Kazakh opposition leader charged, associates say

Associated Press

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) – Supporters of Kazakhstan opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov said Wednesday that he has been charged with incitement to topple the Central Asian nation’s government.

If found guilty on this and another outstanding charge of inciting social unrest, Kozlov could face more than a decade in prison, Alga party representative Mikhail Sizov told The Associated Press.

Sizov said the campaign against Kozlov is politically motivated and aimed at eliminating all signs of opposition to the former Soviet republic’s authoritarian regime.

Kozlov has been in jail since January and already stands accused of fomenting the violent unrest among striking oil workers that hit the town of Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan in December when at least 14 people died. People killed during the riots were shot dead by police attempting to quell the violence.

The National Security Committee, which arrested Kozlov, could not be reached for comment.

Sizov said that Kozlov stands to have his property seized if found guilty, leading in effect to the destruction of his party.

“All the party’s affiliates in the country are registered in his name, so the party will lose all its real estate,” he said.

Sizov said Kovloz has additionally been charged with creating and leading a criminal group.

It is unknown when any of Kozlov’s trials will begin, but Sizov said the first hearings are expected in late July or early August.

Kazakhstan had hoped to prove its democratic credentials with elections in January that brought an end to the five-year monopoly in parliament held by veteran President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party.

But international observers strongly criticized the conduct of the vote, which ushered an additional two largely compliant parties into parliament.

Other opposition figures have been arrested in the authoritarian former Soviet nation over recent months.

In mid-June, prominent theater director Bolat Atabayev and youth activist Zhanbolat Mamay were arrested by the National Security Committee, the successor agency to the KGB.

Both had earlier been charged with inciting social unrest by speaking to striking oil workers in the town of Zhanaozen, but were released on bail. Security services said they were jailed for ignoring investigators’ summons to appear for questioning.

Amnesty International has said in a statement that Atabayev is a “prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.”

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