|Determined to prolong his hold on power, President Nursultan Nazarbayev
manipulated Kazakhstan's electoral, legal, and media machinery. Engineering
a special parliamentary vote whose constitutionality was suspect, he moved
the presidential elections from 2000 to January 10, 1999. And he used legal
technicalities to bar his three political rivals, including his principal
opponent, former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin, from the ballot. His machinations
were so blatant that the U.S. State Department declined to send official
monitors to observe the elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe denounced the electoral fraud in advance of balloting.
In anticipation of this power grab, Nazarbayev started in 1997 to silence
critics and rein in the press. His Justice Ministry continued throughout
the year to threaten and harass the media for alleged violations of the press
law, the Kazakh-language law requiring an equal volume of Kazakh-language
broadcasts as those in other languages, and provisions banning insults aimed
at the president. Apparently officially sanctioned violence against independent
and dissident media also occurred. In this threatening environment, journalists
increasingly resorted to self-censorship.
One of the clearest attempts at intimidation occurred on September 26, when
unidentified assailants scaled a wall and hurled a Molotov cocktail into
the offices of the opposition weekly XXI Vek, causing significant
damage. Two days later, Almaty city authorities closed the newspaper without
court order or explanation. This followed an earlier liquidation order by
authorities against the newspaper TOO Biik El.
The regime also used legal methods to harass the independent press, especially
privately owned newspapers with ties to former Premier Kazhegeldin. Exploiting
the tax code, officials imposed large fines on broadcast outlets and newspapers
considered to be too independent. State tax police repeatedly investigated
such newspapers, including Dat, freezing bank accounts and
confiscating office equipment, including computers. Customs officials seized
print runs of newspapers which sought to avoid state interference by publishing
in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. State security officials harassed the distributors
of the newspaper 451 Gradusa po Farangeitu (Fahrenheit 451).
And the nominally private publishing house Franklin and the state-owned printing
houses unilaterally broke publishing and distribution contracts with the
newspapers Tsentr and XXI Vek.
The Kazakh government continued the process, begun at the end of 1996, to
assert control over television and radio broadcasting, the major media of
news throughout the country. The government rescinded the licenses of several
independent broadcasters and made them available for tender offers before
the expiration date of the original licenses. The Frequency Commission made
sure that only investors favorably disposed to the government won the tenders.
By this process, Nazarbayev's daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, gained control
of the major television stations Khabar and NTK in 1997.
|Attacks on the Press in
Kazakstan in 1998