A court in Kazakhstan on Monday sentenced an outspoken political activist to seven-and-a-half years in jail for allegedly colluding with a fugitive billionaire to overthrow the government. Specifically, Judge Berdybek Myrzabekov found Vladimir Kozlov [official profile, in Russian], head of the unofficial Alga! party [official website, in Russian], guilty of inciting dissent [Reuters report] among striking oil workers in what became a series of violent clashes [RFE/RL report, In Kazakh] between police and workers that left 15 people dead last December. The judge declared that Kozlov had turned a labor dispute into a politicized strike on orders from billionaire Mukhtar Ablyazov, a rival of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website, in Russian]. Koslov, however, has consistently denied the charges and proclaimed that his case was an attempt by the President to quell civil protests within the country.
Kazakhstan has recently drawn criticism from the international community for its human rights record. Last month Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] claimed that oil workers in the country face mistreatment [JURIST report] and repression at the hands of the government and oil companies. In August HRW urged Kazakhstan to ensure that the trials of Koslov, another political activist, and an oil worker comport with international legal standards [JURIST report] for fair trials. 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 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 Kazakhstan sentenced [JURIST report] 13 out of 37 defendants to between three and seven years of imprisonment for their participation in unrest that occurred last December. Sixteen of the remaining defendants faced conditional sentences [BBC report] while five defendants were given amnesty and three were acquitted.