Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014, 11:39 GMT

Kazakhstan: Independent media outlets face clampdown

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Joanna Lillis
Publication Date 1 November 2007
Cite as EurasiaNet, Kazakhstan: Independent media outlets face clampdown, 1 November 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473ae967c.html [accessed 25 April 2014]
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Joanna Lillis: 11/01/07

Independent media outlets in Kazakhstan are facing a clampdown, as allegations and counter-allegations continue to fly over the activities of the president's former son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev.

Representatives of four newspapers say they are facing coordinated measures – ranging from tax and fire inspections to publishing difficulties. Meanwhile, several websites that regularly carry material on the Aliyev case remain inaccessible in Kazakhstan.

Journalists from the four weeklies – Respublika, Svoboda Slova, Taszhargan and Vzglyad, all known for publishing articles critical of the government – are unequivocal about the reasons behind what they portray as an attack on media freedom. They point to publications about Aliyev and continuing allegations about who is responsible for the 2006 murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In a clear attempt to implicate his former father-in-law, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Aliyev in late October told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the order for the killing was given in Austria while the president was holidaying there.

"It's clear that the pressure is linked to material published about Rakhat Aliyev and someone at the top is very much afraid that Rakhat will leak information on who ordered and carried out Altynbek Sarsenbayev's murder," Respublika editor-in-chief Galina Dyrdina told a news conference in Almaty on October 31. Aliyev is living in self-imposed exile in Austria after a failed extradition bid by Kazakhstan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Tax inspectors have visited Respublika's office several times over the past few days and attempted on November 1 to deliver a court summons, which staff declined to accept without a lawyer present. Tax officials also visited Svoboda Slova and Vzglyad, attempting to check documents and seize computers. "A nationwide blockade is under way.... They are afraid of information about who killed Sarsenbayev," Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, editor-in-chief of the Svoboda Slova newspaper, told the news conference.

Svoboda Slova and Taszhargan were unable to distribute their weekly editions after publishing houses pulled out of agreements to print the newspapers, and other publishers declined their business. Respublika was planning to go to press on November 1, with the edition intended to hit newsstands the next morning.

Users in Kazakhstan have been unable to access independent websites such as www.kub.kz, www.zonakz.net and www.inkar.info since mid-to-late October. The timing coincides with the anonymous leaking to Internet sites of audio recordings purportedly containing conversations among senior officials. It has not been lost on observers in Kazakhstan that the tapes, if genuine, reveal closely intertwined links between authorities and oligarchs. Interior Ministry spokesman Bagdat Kozhakhmetov dismissed the tapes as unworthy of comment. "We are not paying any attention.... There is nothing to comment on," he told EurasiaNet.

With the leaked tapes seen by some observers as an attempt to blacken Aliyev's enemies, another rival – Almaty Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov – remains in his position despite months of speculation that he would be ousted as Nazarbayev sought to realign political forces in the wake of the Aliyev case.

As the results of a probe into illegal land allocation in and around Almaty were made public on October 29, Tasmagambetov appeared to have survived politically – at least for the immediate future. Others are likely to suffer the consequences for the 1,460 infringements found by the investigation into how elite houses ended up being built in Almaty's national parks. Prime Minister Karim Masimov recommended firing a previous mayor of the commercial capital, Emergencies Minister Viktor Khrapunov, along with two of Tasmagambetov's deputies, several district officials and the chairman of the State Agency for Land Allocation, Bakhyt Ospanov. Nazarbayev, who has the final say on the matter, issued a decree November 1 removing Khrapunov.

The Aliyev case continues to generate controversy, with questions raised in some circles in Kazakhstan about why action was not taken against him earlier, if – as authorities now say – he was the leader of a criminal group, implicated in abduction and possibly murder. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Aliyev still faces considerable pressure, as Kazakhstani officials plan to try him in absentia. In mid-October, they announced that a body found near a property belonging to Aliyev's father in Almaty Region may be one of the two Nurbank officials who disappeared in early 2007. Aliyev is suspected of playing a role in the disappearances. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav020907.shtml

With Aliyev continuing to protest his innocence and counter with his own allegations, journalists say the public has a right to hear his views as well as those of the government. "Ordinary people have basically been denied access to information," Rozlana Taukina, director of the Journalists in Danger foundation, told the October 31 news conference.

With less than a month remaining before a decision is made on Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009, the timing of the moves against the independent media – coinciding with the opening of the OSCE's annual Central Asian Media Conference in Dushanbe – is questionable, said Dyrdina, the newspaper editor: "There's an impression that someone is deliberately undermining our leadership, that someone doesn't want Kazakhstan to receive the OSCE chairmanship."

Yergaliyeva goes further, pointing to statements by Aliyev that he has supporters in Kazakhstan, and questioning whether they are manipulating the situation. "This is a very well-organized act of sabotage against the image of the president and of Kazakhstan," she said.

The editors are considering actions ranging from legal measures to political protest. They have called for the support of Information Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbayev – who could not immediately be reached for comment. They have also called on authorities to rethink their stance toward independent media outlets. "What's worse: Rakhat's compromising material, or the consequences of such a blockade of papers and websites?" asked Yergaliyeva. "They [officials] have to choose the lesser of two evils."

Editor's Note: Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.

Posted November 1, 2007 © Eurasianet

Copyright notice: All EurasiaNet material © Open Society Institute

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