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US: Kazakhstan Trial Verdict Silences Opposition

Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unofficial Alga! party, looks out from a glass-walled cage during his trial in the Kazakh city of Aktau, October 8, 2012.
The United States has criticized Kazakhstan's jailing of a leading activist, accusing the government of using the criminal justice system to "silence opposition voices."

In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. embassy in Astana expressed concern about the prosecution and sentencing of Vladimir Kozlov, who was sentenced on Monday to seven-and-a-half years in prison on charges of fomenting unrest in the Central Asian republic. Prosecutors say his property is also subject to confiscation.

Kozlov, leader of the unregistered Alga Party, was arrested in January after taking part in oil workers' protests in December that left at least 15 people dead.

The clashes, in the western town of Zhanaozen, occurred on the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence from the Soviet Union, when a protest by laid-off government oil workers turned violent.

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about Kozlov's sentence, saying it has delivered a blow to freedom of expression in Kazakhstan. The New York-based group says the activist is paying a heavy price for publicly criticizing the government and that the proceedings fell short of international standards.

Violence and public protests are rare in Kazakhstan, despite the autocratic rule of its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and intolerance for the opposition.

Many Kazakhs enjoy a higher standard of living than most other Central Asian neighbors because of the country's oil wealth.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.