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US Concerned Over Jail Sentence Given to Kazakhstan Journalist - 2003-01-29

The United States is expressing concern about the conduct of the trial of a prominent Kazakhstan journalist sentenced to three years and six months in prison on rape charges. The journalist, Sergei Duvanov, had been a critic of the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The State Department says it is concerned about "the lack of due process" in the trial of Mr. Duvanov, who was sentenced Tuesday on rape charges his supporters say were fabricated and part of a government assault on press freedom.

The 49-year-old editor of a human rights publication was arrested last October, a day before he was due to travel to Washington and New York for seminars on the Central Asian country and to receive an award for his writings.

His three-week trial on charges of raping a teenaged girl was closed to the public, though after initial protests, observers from the U.S. embassy, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were allowed to attend.

A State Department spokeswoman, Brenda Greenberg, said Mr. Duvanov's defense team complained they had had not gotten enough time to prepare their case and had been denied proper access to their client, and that the trial included false testimony and no presumption of innocence.

She said the judge's verdict acknowledged procedural violations, and she said if the case is appealed, the United States hopes that due process and international standards of justice will be observed, and that the allegations of irregularities will be addressed.

Mr. Duvanov's publication had been a frequent critic of President Nazabayev's authoritarian rule, and it drew the particular ire of officials when it carried charges that the president and his inner circle had funneled money into Swiss bank accounts.

Prosecutors in July pressed, but later dropped, charges against Mr. Duvanov for "insulting the dignity and honor of the president." In August, he was severely beaten in the southern city of Almaty in an attack for which the government denied responsibility.

Mr. Duvanov had vigorously maintained his innocence of the rape charge. His supporters say he went on a hunger strike soon after his arrest, which ended in November when authorities ordered him force-fed.

In his most recent global report on human rights in March of last year, the State Department said Kazakhstan's overall rights record was poor. It cited cases of arbitrary arrests and detentions by a legal system controlled by the executive branch, and harassment and monitoring of independent and opposition media.