Date set for Kazakhstan opposition leader's trial

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Associated Press

Posted on August 11, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Updated Saturday, Aug 11 at 9:00 AM

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — Supporters of Kazakhstan opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov said Saturday that his trial on charges of seeking to overthrow the Central Asian nation's government is set to begin next week.

Kozlov's wife, Aliya Turusbekova, said that she believed authorities would seek a quick trial over the August holiday period to minimize public scrutiny. She said the first hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Kozlov's Alga party says the case is aimed at eliminating opposition to the former Soviet republic's authoritarian regime. It has expressed fears that if Kozlov is convicted on charges that include inciting social unrest and heading a criminal gang, he could face over a decade behind bars.

Kazakhstan has undertaken costly public relations exercises to cast itself as a modernizing nation, but lack of political freedoms has undermined that effort.

Critics of Kazakhstan's court system accuse of it lacking independence and say that Kozlov's case may be influenced by the government.

"Judging by the conduct of law enforcement agencies — prosecutors and the national security committee — it is clear that they have been instructed to get the trial over with as fast as possible," Turusbekova said. "I would not be surprised if there is a verdict within two or three weeks."

Turusbekova said that it was not yet clear whether the Kozlov's case would be heard behind closed doors.

Trials deemed to be sensitive to national security in Kazakhstan are commonly conducted secretly.

Another political activist, Serik Sapargali, a member of the People's Front movement, is also expected to go on trial Thursday on the same charges.

Kozlov has been in jail since January and already stands accused of fomenting the violent unrest in December among striking oil workers in the town of Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan, where at least 14 people were killed when police opened fire at protesters.

In June, Human Rights Watch criticized the Kazakh government for its investigation into people it linked to events in Zhanaozen, saying it was characterized by secrecy and lacked transparency.

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