News / 12.12.2012

Kazakhstan bans independent media, attacks journalists

By Oksana CHELYSHEVA

On November 23, 2012, journalists of the Kazakhstan newspaper Voice of Republic held a press conference to state their position on the unprecedented decision by the authorities of this country to close down all the media outlets which dare to criticize President Nazarbaev’s rule. The day before the circulation of the newspaper which is printed in Russia and then delivered to Kazakhstan by air was expected to be confiscated.

Almaty court ruled on November 21 that the entire circulation of the Voice of Republic to be seized on the grounds of its content to be ”extremist”. However, the journalists managed to be the first at the airport. They have boycotted the court ruling by taking the chance to bring their already banned newspaper to the readers. Lyudmila Kozlovska, a representative of the ”Open Dialogue” Foundation comments, ”The entire content of the newspaper is already regarded as a criminal offence, due to the court ruling. Therefore, they are all in a danger of even more aggressive moves by the law-enforcement agencies against them”.

Independent media banned, journalists beaten and jailed

The following day the journalists of the newspaper published their statement, ”We are not going to submit”. However, the newspaper webpage was not accessible for many Internet users, due to its ongoing blocking. Oxana Makushina, the deputy editor of the newspaper told us during our meeting in their office, ”Our webpage has been under continuous blockage by the main Internet provider ”Kazakhtelekom”.
At that, this obstacle is a minor problem in comparison to other methods of pressure that the journalists have been subjected to in the last ten years.

In 2002 they found a beheaded dog nailed to the main entrance to their office. There was an additional message, ”There will be no other chance for you”. The following day the office was set on fire. The perpetrators of the crime have never been found.

Irina Petrushova, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, had to flee Kazakhstan already in 2002 after several criminal cases had been opened against her by Kazakhstan Committee on National Security. Since 2010 the newspaper has been published in Russia, due to the refusal of local printing houses to cooperate with the media. Many of its journalists have been summoned for interrogations by the Committee on National Security.

In August this year Andrey Tsukanov, another journalist with the Voice of Republic, was beaten up just a few hours before his departure to another region to observe the ongoing trial on Vadim Kuramshin, a human rights activist falsely charged with  ”money extortion” from the deputy prosecutor. Kuramshin was sentenced to one year of imprisonment and the sentence was suspended. However, in November this year he was taken into custody on the grounds of ”breaking the conditions of his suspended sentence by attending the OSCE conference in Warsaw”.

The Zhanaozen strike and massacre 2011

The Voice of Republic has been covering all these developments. The role of journalists of the newspaper in investigating the events in Zhanaozen in December 2011 and the 7-month strike which had preceded  the massacre of December 16 when armed police opened fire at defenseless people leaving several dozens dead and wounding many.

The Voice of Republic as well as Vzglyad newspaper and K+ TV station acted not just as sources of the information from the area affected by the strike. Their journalists were the first one to sneak into Zhanaozen after the shooting. The city was cut off from all channels of communication for almost a month. It was the journalists who acted as human rights defenders when Zhanaozen was plunged into oblivion and arbitrary arrests and unreported torture hit could become the reality of each and every one of its citizens.

One of the cases which the Voice of Republic investigated was the murder of 20-year-old Alexander Bozhenko. Being brought up in a children’s home in Zhanaozen, Alexander found a job at one of the oil companies. He didn’t participate in the strike. On December 18, 2011, he was arbitrarily apprehended on the way to his job. Police applied brutal torture to force him to agree to give a false confession at the trial on oil strikers. Alexander disclaimed the false testimony in court. A few days later he appeared at the trial once again. This time he came to tell the truth of the police methods to make their victims lie. Five months later, in October 2012, Alexander Bozhenko was murdered under circumstances which are too dim and conspicuous to believe the assertions of the official investigation that it was an accidental crime committed by drunkards.

In their public statement the journalists endangered with a criminal case claim, ”We have been charged with criminal offences because we have been denouncing the deficiencies of the authorities, including suppression of freedom of expression, killing of innocent people, the deception of the people, because we have been reporting on political reprisals and provided the floor for independent experts and political analysts”.

They also touched upon another point absolutely sensitive for president Nazarbaev. He has been doing his utmost to create the image of Kazakhstan to be the only stable and democratic state in the Central Asia. He has not hesitated to inject Europe with his money. Every time when Kazakhstan got a chance to open his just another embassy in the EU member states, Nazarbaev’s PR managers put big effort into having Nazarbaev’s epoch memoirs translated into languages of host states.

Kazakhstan chaired the OSCE in 2010. In 2012 they have been admitted to the UN Security Council. Currently, the EU is to start mediating with their Central Asian main oil-source on the new enhanced Development and Cooperation Agreement. On November 22, the European Parliament  adopted with a large majority S&D rapporteur Liisa Jaakonsaari's report on the recommendations on the negotiations for an enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Kazakhstan to the Council, the Commission and the European External Action Service. Its main message is straightforward: closer EU-Kazakhstan relations depend on respect for human rights and democracy.

Opposition leader disappered in detention

Meanwhile, just two days after the report was approved, Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of non-registered Alga party who was sentenced to seven years six month in detention camp on political charges of being a fomenter of the social unrest in the oil areas of Kazakhstan, has been transported to an undisclosed location.

His wife Aliya spent hours that day at the gates to the investigatory prison of Aktau city where the trial on Kozlov was held.

Aliya’s request for a meeting was denied. Her anxiety increased when the prison administration started to claim that her husband was no longer in the prison. She tells, ”Two previous days I was under a lot of surveillance who followed all my moves around Aktau. The evening before Vladimir’s disappearance from the prison a large group of people in civilian clothes entered the prison. They started to give orders to the staff of the investigatory prison. Then we went to the flat which we rent out. We found all out things there turned upside down. One of the lawyers was robbed of her valuables. Also some of the documents on the case were gone. The other lawyer got some weird food poison. We also learnt that the same night those people in civilian clothes went into Vladimir’s cell. Our contacts tell that there were a lot of strange noise coming out of it. He must have been taken away from the prison even before the morning. What if something terrible has happened to him?”

The trial against Vladimir Kozlov and his co-defendants, Akzhanat Aminov and Serik Sapargali, was found to be unfairly conducted by many of its international observers. Its political motives have been clear. Vladimir Kozlov was arrested a few days after his return from Brussels where he had testified at the special hearings on Kazakhstan held by the Subcommittee on Human Rights at the EP. Moreover, the indictment on Vladimir Kozlov contained such a proof of his alleged calls on violent overturn of power as another testimony he had made at the 2011 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.”
 

***

For more information, see also IFEX page: http://www.ifex.org/kazakhstan/

 


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