(Washington) - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today expressed deep suspicion of the charge brought against one of Kazakhstan’s best known opposition journalists, Sergei Duvanov, whom Kazakh authorities on Monday accused of rape.
“Sergei Duvanov has gained a reputation as Kazakhstan’s journalistic conscience, who reports on human rights abuses and misdeeds by President Nursultan Nazarbaev's authoritarian regime at personal risk,” Smith said. “There are good reasons to suspect this charge is politically motivated. I fear this latest accusation represents the Nazarbaev regime’s desire to silence one of its leading critics.”
“On the very day Sergei Duvanov was detained, he was preparing to leave for Washington to deliver public addresses on the deteriorating situation in Kazakhstan,” Smith added. “He may be paying the price again for his candor. The Helsinki Commission and the international community will be following this case closely.”
Duvanov is the editor-in-chief of The Bulletin published by the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. Kazakh authorities accuse him of raping a 14-year-old girl who visited his dacha along with two neighbors. Duvanov told his lawyers that he was drugged by an unknown substance in tea he drank, lost consciousness and remembers only being awakened by the police.
Duvanov was charged in July with “insulting the honor and dignity of the president” after publishing an article about the ongoing international investigation into corruption on the highest level in Kazakhstan. In August, he was attacked by three men in his apartment building who warned him not to continue writing muckraking articles or he would be “crippled.”
Kazakhstan’s record of media freedom began tumbling downhill in the mid-1990s, as President Nazarbaev consolidated his power, eliminated rivals and tightened his grip on all branches of power.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists included Nazarbaev on its list of “Ten Worst Enemies of the Press” in May 2000. In the last year, the situation has deteriorated drastically. Opposition journalists have been assaulted and their newspapers attacked and fined. The daughter of opposition editor Lira Baseitova died in police custody in May. Another editor found a decapitated dog on her doorstep, with a warning to desist from writing articles critical of the regime.
“Considering how Nazarbaev’s regime has brazenly flouted its OSCE commitments on democratization and crushed freedom of the press, any criminal charges against Kazakhstan’s independent and opposition journalists should be treated with the greatest skepticism,” Smith said. “It is not enough for Kazakhstan’s law enforcement agencies – which are controlled by President Nazarbaev – to assert Duvanov’s guilt. Independent experts, preferably foreign specialists experienced in handling DNA evidence, should be involved in this investigation.”
The Helsinki Commission’s Kazakhstan-related material is available on its Internet Web site, www.csce.gov.
Co-Chairman Smith is the author of House Concurrent Resolution 422 expressing the sense of Congress over Kazakhstan’s deteriorating human rights conditions.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.