Letters   |   Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan must halt crackdown on independent press

December 21, 2012

His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev
President of Kazakhstan Astana

Via facsimile: +7 7172 74 56 67; +7 7172 74 56 31

Dear President Nazarbayev,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the ongoing crackdown against dozens of news outlets that appears aimed at driving national independent and opposition media in Kazakhstan into extinction.

The actions by prosecutors and the security service, or KNB, are in direct contrast to your country's pledge, when it joined the United Nations Human Rights Council last month "to lead - not only from within the Council, but by example at home - in order to guarantee that universal human rights are protected and observed across the globe." We call on you, Mr. President, to use all resources available to you to halt this crackdown and ensure that media pluralism is preserved in Kazakhstan.

On November 20, prosecutors in Almaty filed extremism and anti-state charges against more than 30 news outlets, including print publications and online publications, online broadcasters, and social networking platforms, and demanded that local courts ban them. Among the targeted media are the embattled newspapers Vzglyad and Respublika (and its many affiliates); critical broadcasters Stan TV and K-Plus; and their respective websites and titles.

CPJ research shows that this is the second wave of a crackdown against the independent and opposition media that started in January, following their reporting on deadly clashes a year ago in the western, oil-producing town of Zhanaozen between security forces and striking oil workers, in which at least 14 people died. After the outlets reported on the Zhanaozen events and criticized your government for using deadly force against the striking workers, prosecutors and KNB agents raided newsrooms, confiscated reporting equipment, interrogated journalists, and imprisoned Vzglyad's editor Igor Vinyavsky.

After CPJ appealed to you in a February public letter, the official intimidation against these outlets seemed to have subsided; Vinyavsky was freed from jail in March. Alarmingly, though, authorities are stepping up the pressure again.

Extremism and anti-state charges filed against the media in November arose, illogically, from

the prosecution and sentencing a month earlier of Vladimir Kozlov, an opposition activist accused of orchestrating the Zhanaozen clashes, according to news reports. In the verdict against Kozlov--according to a November 21 statement by a representative of the Prosecutor-General's Office of Kazakhstan--a Mangistausky regional court "determined that the activity of [...] a number of mass media outlets carries extremist character" and that according to Kazakhstan's laws on combating extremism and mass media, Vzglyad, Respublika, Stan TV, and K-Plus were either to be shut down or dissemination of their content banned. It was not clear what relationship is alleged between Kozlov and the media outlets. The outlets have denied any connection to Kozlov, but they were not part of the court hearings against Kozlov and could not dispute the charges made against them in court.

In subsequent court cases, Kazakh courts ruled that local offices of Stan TV and K-Plus be permanently shut down and their websites blocked inside the country. On Thursday, at a hearing against Vzglyad, an Almaty district court ordered the newspaper to shut down, according to Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz. A ruling is still pending against Respublika and its affiliates, including Golos Respubliki; the publication is suspended in the meantime.

Separately, on Wednesday, KNB agents raided the newsrooms of Stan TV and Golos Respubliki, and confiscated all of their reporting equipment as well as their financial and registration documents, the journalists said at a joint press conference in Almaty on Thursday. The KNB said the raid was connected to a criminal case against the company that lent office space to both media, but they have not explained how the newsroom equipment was connected to it, the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz reported.

In a joint statement, the editorial boards of the targeted news outlets said that they were being targeted in retaliation for "exposing the government's flaws, including press freedom violations, killing of innocent civilians, and political repressions." The statement said the outlets believe they are being punished for "providing an information platform to independent experts and political analysts." They have said they will appeal the rulings against them.

Mr. President, we urge you as head of state to intervene by calling upon your country's prosecutor-general to drop all ongoing charges against these news outlets and ensure that the courts act in a matter that ensures the survival of independent and opposition media in your country. If the current legal path was successful, media pluralism in Kazakhstan would be eradicated.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

Cc List:

Askhat Daulbayev, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Dastan S. Yeleukenov, Chargé d'Affaires, Embassy of Kazakhstan to the U.S.

Kenneth J. Fairfax, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Kazakhstan

Yerzhan Kazykhanov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Michael H. Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Major-General Abykaev Nurtay Abykaevich, Chairman of the National Security Committee

Robert O. Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary, South and Central Asian Affairs

Christopher H. Smith, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Navanethem Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

Baroness Catherine Ashton, EU External Relations Commissioner

Barbara Lochbihler, Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament

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