Kazakhstan frees jailed editor, dozens await trial

ALMATY Fri Mar 16, 2012 2:58am EDT

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ALMATY (Reuters) - A Kazakh newspaper editor critical of strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been pardoned and released from jail, while dozens of other people were awaiting trial after Kazakhstan's worst violence in decades.

Igor Vinyavsky, editor of the opposition newspaper Vzglyad, was jailed in January. The KNB, successor of the Soviet-era KGB secret police, said at the time Vinyavsky had been charged with calling for the forcible overthrow of constitutional order.

A group of prominent opposition activists, including Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unregistered Alga! party, was arrested at the same time on charges that also included fomenting social hatred.

The arrests, which triggered an angry outcry from Western human rights bodies and protest rallies in Kazakhstan, followed deadly clashes between sacked oil workers and police in western Kazakhstan in December, in which at least 16 people were killed.

"My client was released yesterday," Vinyavsky's lawyer Gennady Nam told Reuters. "They (prosecutors) could not prove he had acted as part of an organized criminal group -- which is a less grave crime -- and his plea for amnesty was satisfied."

Vinyavsky is among some 16,000 prison inmates being released under an amnesty marking the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence from the Soviet Union.

"My political views remain unchanged," Radio Azttyq, the Kazakh service of the U.S.-sponsored Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe (www.ru.azattyq.org), quoted Vinyavsky as saying as he was leaving a KNB jail late on Thursday.

The office of prosecutor Timur Suleimenov, who is reported to have sanctioned Vinyavsky's release, declined to comment.

During his more than two decades in power, Nazarbayev, a 71-year-old former steelworker, has prioritized economic growth over democratic freedoms.

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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