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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Kazakstan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Kazakstan, February 1997, available at: [accessed 24 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev moved to increase his control over the media, most likely in anticipation of the presidential elections scheduled for the year 2000. In January, Nazarbayev decreed a reorganization of the National Agency for Press and Mass Media, according to which only he can appoint or dismiss the agency's chairman. Journalists viewed the move as consolidating presidential leverage over state-subsidized media.

Journalists continued to suffer detention, harassment, and even imprisonment for their work, while lawsuits and bureaucratic obstacles pressured independent newspapers and broadcasters. Some attacks on the press reflected the Kazak government's increasing concern with the presence of a large and vocal Russian population. Several Russian correspondents based in Almaty, such as Izvestiya's Vladimir Ardayev, were threatened with the loss of accreditation when their coverage appeared to challenge the Nazarbayev government.

In some cases, reporters fought back and upheld their freedoms. Komsomolskaya Pravda was threatened with criminal prosecution and closure for carrying a controversial piece by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. But after campaigns by domestic and international press freedom advocates, including CPJ, authorities opted for a lighter penalty, requiring the newspaper to print an expression of regret. In another case, Batyrkhan Darinbet of Radio Liberty's Kazakstani Service, detained by police July 5 while attempting to cover an unauthorized anti-nuclear demonstration, sued the government for wrongful arrest and was awarded damages, although the government was not required to pay the damages.

Five independent radio and television stations – all of whom rent transmitters from the government – were informed Nov. 9 in writing that they were "interfering with air traffic communications" and that they would need special clearance to enter their studios. All the stations were intermittently shut down. In December, the Association of Independent Electronic Mass Media of Central Asia reported that law-enforcement officials in several provincial cities had conducted hostile inspections of television and radio companies, all of which are members of the association.

Meanwhile, the president's daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, received her own semi-privatized television station, Khabar, whose programming does not present a challenge to the government. Nazarbayeva was also instrumental in registering another "independent" channel, NTK, whose founders include high government officials. In December, the government announced a public tender of broadcast frequencies (including those already leased) at prices far out of the range of any truly independent company's ability to pay. The alternative media feared that only groups close to the government would gain control of the frequencies, since only such companies would have access to the necessary funds for licenses, at least US$30,000 for an investment in an FM radio frequency and US$64,000 for a VHF television frequency, plus annual fees of at least US$12,000.

January 23

Vasilyev, formerly a reporter for the Kazakstani edition of the Russian newspaper Argumenty i Fakty, was arrested and placed in detention. On July 10, he was found guilty of libeling a public official by the Medeus District Court in Almaty, the Kazak capital. He was sentenced to five months in prison, a term less than the time he had already spent in pretrial detention, and released. On Aug. 10, 1994, Vasilyev had published a brief item alleging that the ex-governor of the East Kazakstan region had been detained by Moscow customs authorities for attempting to smuggle gold across the border. The item was based on an account from a source in the KNB (Kazakstan National Security), but the information turned out to be false, reportedly planted by other officials in an attempt to discredit the governor. After Vasilyev was notified that he was under investigation for criminal libel, he returned to Russia in 1995, even though he had signed a statement promising not to leave Kazakstan. On Jan. 23, 1996, when Vasilyev returned to Kazakstan at the request of his editors, he was promptly arrested in his apartment in the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk. He spent about two months in a local prison without charge and was then transferred to Almaty, where he spent more than three months in an isolation cell until his trial. Argumenty i Fakty did not rehire Vasilyev, and he has been unable to find work in journalism since his release from prison.

March 10
Erik Nurshin, formerly of Dozhivyom do Ponedelnika, LEGAL ACTION

A criminal libel case was opened against Nurshin, a prominent Russian journalist who lives in the capital of Almaty and had edited the now-defunct newspaper Dozhivyom do Ponedelnika (Let's Survive Until Monday). The investigation was in connection with the newspaper's criticism of the chairman of Kazakstan's Supreme Court and of law-enforcement officials, and its reporting of rape accusations against the governor of the Dzambul region. Article 191-1 of the Kazakstani Penal Code essentially prevents reporters from investigating allegations of official corruption or criminal acts until after a court renders a decision on the allegations. In July, authorities closed the case "due to lack of evidence." Dozhivyom do Ponedelnika stopped publishing in December 1995 after authorities, unhappy with an article blaming high officials for Kazakstan's agricultural failures, ordered the founder of the paper to shut it down, and the founder fled the country. Eventually editor Nurshin and his staff from Dozhivyom do Ponedelnika started up a weekly television program called "Versiya" on TV M, a commercial channel. Although the criminal case against Nurshin was dropped, he and his television show continued to come under pressure from officials and the government press. By year's end the station was facing closure.

May 29
Komsomolskaya Pravda, THREATENED

Editors at the Almaty office of the Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda and a local district court judge were summoned to the office of the prosecutor general of Kazakstan and told that the prosecutor general was calling for a ban on the newspaper. The prosecutor general charged that Komsomolskaya Pravda had violated Kazakstan's constitution, which forbids incitement of ethnic hatred and violation of territorial integrity. The charges cited an April 23 article by Alexander Solzhenitsyn calling for the reunification of the northern districts of Kazakstan with Russia. Komsomolskaya Pravda later published letters opposing Solzhenitsyn's view. The allegations were first made by the Union of Writers of Kazakstan, which brought the case to the district court. When the district court judge dismissed the charges, the union then brought the allegations to the prosecutor general, who ordered another hearing. CPJ wrote a letter to the president and prosecutor general of Kazakstan urging that the case be dropped, noting that the charges were in serious violation of free press standards. Meanwhile, Altynbek Sarsenbaev, chairman of the government's National Agency for Press and Mass Media of Kazakstan, petitioned the prosecutor general to close the newspaper for six months because of the alleged constitutional violations. On July 17, the district court ordered the newspaper to print an apology about the incident within a week. Komsomolskaya Pravda printed a statement of regret the next day, and the case was dropped on July 24.

Radio Totem, HARASSED

Several independent television and radio stations were harassed by Kazakstani officials during the first two weeks of November, apparently in anticipation of a mass opposition rally scheduled for Nov. 17 but eventually banned by the government before it could take place. Radio M, Radio NS, Radio Totem, and Radio RIK were shut down for periods ranging from several hours to several days, and on Nov. 4, transmission of TV M and KTK TV reportedly was stopped. On Nov. 8, most of the radio stations received letters from the newly formed State Frequency Commission alleging that their broadcasts were interfering with air traffic communications at the airport. Air traffic control officials denied that the broadcasts were causing any difficulties. Also in November, independent broadcasters were notified by the State Property Committee and the Ministry of Transport and Communications that the elevated area where both the government-owned transmitter and the studios of nongovernment stations are located had been declared a "controlled facility," requiring a special entry pass.

November 25

Electric and telephone wires to the studio for independent radio and television station M were cut, making work there virtually impossible. The station managed to continue broadcasting six hours a day to special three-channel receivers in customers' homes. On Dec. 5, an official from President Nursultan Nazarbayev's administration called M's directors and said, "For two years you have been the mouthpiece of the opposition, and therefore we are closing you down." Members of the administration later denied that anyone had made that statement, even though the phone conversation had been taped and broadcast. The officials claimed that the station had been closed "due to technical reasons." The station's license expired on Jan. 1, 1997, and unable to compete in a high-priced government auction of frequencies, M was forced to close.

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