A court in western Kazakhstan sentenced opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov to 7 1/2 years in prison Monday for stoking "social discord" and calling for the "forcible overthrow of the constitutional order."
The charges were related to Kozlov's alleged role in clashes between striking oil workers and police in western Kazakhstan in December 2011.
Mihra Rittmann, a lead researcher on Central Asian affairs for Human Rights Watch, said the case against Kozlov was unfair. His defense was given a Russian-language indictment, though Kozlov speaks only Kazakh. Parts of the indictment, Rittmann said, were based on selective examination of the records.
"The court did nothing to allay fears that this case is arbitrary and politically motivated," she said in a statement.
The U.S. Embassy in Astana said it values its strategic partnership with Kazakhstan but expressed concern about the "apparent use of the criminal system to silence opposition voices" in the Kozlov case.
At least 15 people were killed during last year's strikes in the oil city of Zhanaozen.