HRW urges fair trial for Kazakh rights activist

ALMATY Tue Sep 1, 2009 5:39pm IST

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ALMATY (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday urged Kazakhstan to ensure a fair trial for a prominent rights activist accused of manslaughter, saying it feared political interference.

Human rights campaigner Yevgeny Zhovtis will go on trial this week following a car accident last month in which he hit a pedestrian who later died. He faces up to five years in jail if found guilty of violating traffic regulations.

"The government's past harassment of its critics and its handling of the case thus far raise concerns that it could be used for political purposes," HRW said in a statement.

The 54-year-old has often criticised the Kazakh government and "has influenced international policy towards Kazakhstan", HRW quoted its Central Asia researcher Andrea Berg as saying.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said last month that investigators in Zhovtis's case believed he could have avoided hitting the man, who was walking on the highway.

Kazakh opposition has on a number of occasions accused the government of using trumped-up charges to jail or silence the critics and opponents of President Nursultan Nazarbayev who has run the country since 1989. The government denies these charges.

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