ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakhstan, responding to fierce criticism by international rights groups, has denied that the conviction of human rights activist and government critic Yevgeny Zhovtis was politically motivated.
A court this month sentenced Zhovtis to four years in prison for violation of traffic regulations following a July accident in which his car struck and killed a pedestrian.
Zhovtis, 54, said the harshness of the sentence handed down to him in a brief trial was linked to his professional activities and called the verdict politically charged.
He was accused of failing to make an emergency stop. He said he was blinded by the lights of oncoming cars and could not have prevented the accident.
In a statement issued late on Monday, Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayev said the verdict was in line with Kazakh law.
"The rule of law principle means the law is equal for everyone," Ashykbayev said. "According to available statistics, there have been 176 such tragic cases in Kazakhstan in January-July and in 136 cases (76 percent) defendants were sentenced to prison terms.
"This proves that the Zhovtis case is not 'exclusive' at all."