Government critic says jail term is ‘persecution’
A CRITIC of Kazakhstan’s president has been jailed for seven-and-a-half years for colluding with a fugitive billionaire in an effort to rally oil workers to bring down the government.
Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unofficial Alga! party, was found guilty yesterday of orchestrating dissent among striking oilmen in the prelude to riots last December that killed 15 people.
Kozlov denied the charges. On 1 October, in his final pronouncement before sentencing, he said that his case was an “undisguised attempt” to stifle civic protest and labour rights.
Yesterday, as he was being led away, he said: “This is not a proper trial, but persecution.”
In his more than two decades as president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, 72, has eschewed democratic freedoms in pursuit of the oil-fuelled growth and investment that has made Kazakhstan’s $185 billion economy the largest in Central Asia.
Authorities have tried in recent years to balance their desire to preserve stability and economic growth with efforts to improve the country’s image on the world stage.
Kozlov, 52, clenched his fists when the judge read out his sentence in a court in Aktau, a city about 1,600 miles west of the capital Astana.
Aktau is the capital of Mangistau, the western Kazakh region where employees of state-run oil companies staged a months-long protest in 2011 after being fired for striking over wages.
Judge Berdybek Myrzabekov said Kozlov had turned a labour dispute into a politicised strike after travelling the country to find “weak spots” under orders from Mukhtar Ablyazov, an arch foe of Nazarbayev and the former head of BTA bank.
Ablyazov left Kazakhstan in 2009 and was granted asylum in Britain last year as he awaited fraud charges he says were politically motivated. His whereabouts are unknown since he fled London in February after being sentenced for contempt of court.
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