20 May 2010
After an OSCE representative visited one of the Kazakhstan's most prominent human rights defenders in prison recently, Astana, the current OSCE chair, issued an order to ban reporting on the visit, reports an OSCE watchdog.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's human rights chief Matteo Mecacci visited Yevgeny Zhovtis at his prison colony near the remote town of Ust-Kamenogorsk on May 13. Zhovtis is serving a four-year sentence on trumped-up charges of vehicular manslaughter. The visit was held under the auspices of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
"Unfortunately, the Kazakh Chairmanship instructed the OSCE press office in Vienna not to publish the OSCE PA press release about Mr. Mecacci's visit on the OSCE website," reads the Parliamentary Assembly newsletter News from Copenhagen, on May 19, still available here.
It appears the PA did not comply with Astana's orders.
"Mr. Zhovtis was in good condition but disappointed in the Supreme Court's refusal to recognize the lack of fairness in the legal proceedings. Unfortunately, I have to conclude that institutions can fail to deliver a fair and proportionate judgment in a situation that to independent observers does not entail criminal responsibility," said Mr. Mecacci (Italy), Rapporteur of the OSCE PA's General Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions.
Furthermore, he added, "at a time when the Kazakh parliament has approved even wider powers for the President of the Republic, it is important to reaffirm that all OSCE states have committed themselves to respect the rule of law and the separation of powers, and that a special responsibility rests with its OSCE Chairmanship."
Several senior OSCE PA officials have previously raised concerns about the trial and sentence given to Mr. Zhovtis, but Mr. Mecacci is the first OSCE PA representative to meet with Mr. Zhovtis in prison. The visit was conducted in agreement with the Kazakh authorities and supported by the OSCE Centre in Astana.
Many human rights activists charge that Astana has made a prized chump of the OSCE for cracking down on the media, human rights groups, and limiting opposition political activity.