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Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Kazakhstan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2004
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Kazakhstan, February 2004, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
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 continued his intense persecution of Kazakhstan's independent media in 2003, silencing government critics and sidelining opposition to his autocratic policies and control over the country's billion-dollar oil and gas industries.

Anyone who criticizes the president, his family, and his associates can be criminally prosecuted, and the government's growing persecution of the media has increased self-censorship. Nazarbayev has consolidated his control over the airwaves and newsstands ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for 2004 and 2006, respectively.

Due to his growing military cooperation with the United States and NATO, Nazarbayev has faced no serious international repercussions for his crackdown on the media and the opposition. Kazakhstan has conducted joint military exercises with U.S. forces in its territory and allows the U.S. military to use its airfields for refueling and emergency landings.

Facing a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into allegations that the president and those close to him accepted hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes from American oil companies, Nazarbayev methodically stifled any media coverage that criticized him or his policies. Media outlets that reported on the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan Party and official corruption in the energy industry are particularly vulnerable to government persecution.

Politicized courts took the lead in persecuting government critics during 2003. In January, a court in the country's financial capital, Almaty, sentenced Sergei Duvanov, a prominent independent journalist who writes for opposition-financed Web sites and edits a human rights bulletin, to three-and-a-half years in prison for allegedly raping a minor. The trial was closed to the public and marred by numerous procedural violations.

Duvanov is known for his criticism of high-level Kazakh officials, including Nazarbayev, and authorities have frequently harassed him in reprisal. His colleagues and defense attorneys maintain that the journalist is innocent, and that Kazakh authorities fabricated the case to muzzle him. The Almaty Regional Court and the Supreme Court both rejected appeals filed by Duvanov's defense team. Independent journalists say Duvanov's imprisonment has increased self-censorship. In late December, a court ruled that Duvanov could serve the rest of his term in a low-security facility near Almaty.

In March, another Almaty court convicted two men of setting fire to the opposition weekly Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika in May 2002, sentenced them to three years in prison, and fined them 998,000 tenge (US$6,575). Irina Petrushova, Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika's editor-in-chief and the recipient of CPJ's 2002 International Press Freedom Award, does not believe that the men prosecuted are responsible for the crime. Rather, she thinks the fire was an attempt by government officials to silence the newspaper's criticism of Nazarbayev and his policies.

Government persecution has forced some journalists like Petrushova to go into exile. Petrushova, who fled the country in 2002 after she was targeted with death threats and lawsuits, now edits her newspaper from Moscow. After a court closed Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika in 2002 for its government criticism, Petrushova was forced to change the newspaper's name to Assandi Times.

Libel remains a criminal offense in Kazakhstan. Civil libel cases have no statute of limitation, and there is no limit on the fines that can be imposed. In July, an Almaty district court awarded Nazarbayev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliev 300,000 tenge (US$2,000) in a libel case against the Assandi Times stemming from an article published in April stating that Aliev had used his political connections to obstruct the activities of business rivals.

Journalists throughout the country continued to face violent reprisals for criticizing government officials. In April, unidentified attackers beat unconscious Maksim Erokhin, editor of the independent newspaper Rabat in the southern city of Shimkent, after he published an article about senior government officials building illegal villas. In October, several men beat Andrei Doronin, a correspondent for the independent Almaty daily Ekspress-K, near his home and told him to quit journalism after he wrote a series of articles about illegal vodka production

Authorities actively obstructed news and information on the Internet, periodically blocking access to independent and opposition news Web sites such as,, and from the country's main Internet service provider, the state-run Kazakhtelecom.

Authorities also suppress independent reporting by conducting politicized tax audits and police raids, denying accreditation to media outlets, and limiting access to government information and press conferences.

The president's family and pro-government oligarchs control most of the country's private media, including all broadcast media. Nazarbayev's daughter, Dariga, heads the influential Khabar Media Holding Company and chairs the pro-government Congress of Kazakh Journalists. She launched her own political party in October, apparently in preparation for the 2004 parliamentary elections and the 2006 presidential elections. Nazarbayev's term expires in 2006, and his daughter is expected to run to replace him.

The government proposed a new version of the Media Law during the summer that expands restrictions on the independent media and makes it easier for regulators to shutter media outlets for minor violations. Government officials ignored changes proposed by press freedom activists during the fall, and the lower house of Parliament passed the draft Media Law in late December.

2003 Documented Cases – Kazakhstan

JANUARY 28, 2003
Updated: February 9, 2004

Sergei Duvanov, Prava Cheloveka v Kazakhstane i Mire

Duvanov, a prominent 49-year-old journalist known for his criticism of Kazakh authorities, was arrested on October 27, 2002, on suspicion of raping a minor. The journalist was officially charged on November 6. Duvanov denied the rape accusation, saying it was a government effort to discredit him. The charges came just as Duvanov was preparing to leave for the United States, where he was scheduled to give a series of talks at Washington, D.C.- and New York-based think tanks about political conditions in Kazakhstan.

Shortly after his arrest, Duvanov went on a hunger strike to protest his detention. He ended the strike after 13 days, when prison authorities began to force-feed him. His trial, which began on December 24, ended on January 28, 2003. Duvanov was found guilty and sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The journalist's daughter Dinisa was granted political asylum in the U.S. in March due to fears for her security.

Duvanov's defense team appealed the conviction, which was rejected by the Almaty regional court in March and the Supreme Court in November.

Duvanov, who writes for opposition-financed Web sites and is the editor-in-chief of a bulletin published by the Almaty-based Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, is known for his biting criticism of Kazakhstan's political system and high-level officials, including Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Authorities have frequently harassed him in reprisal for his work. Two months prior to his arrest, on the evening of August 28, 2002, three unknown assailants beat and stabbed Duvanov in the stairwell of his apartment building, saying of his work, "If you carry on, you'll be made a total cripple." On July 9, 2002, the General Prosecutor' Office had charged him with "infringing the honor and dignity of the president"-a criminal offense punishable by a fine or a maximum three-year prison sentence-after he accused President Nazarbayev of corruption in an article. Authorities later dropped that criminal case against him without any explanation.

After 14 months in prison, the Kapchagay district court ruled on December 29, 2003, that he could serve the rest of his term in a low security labor camp. Duvanov was transferred to a labor camp that same day, the independent Almaty newspaper Assandi Times reported.

On January 15, 2004, Duvanov was released from the labor camp on probation for good behavior, according to local press reports. He was allowed to return to his home in Almaty and his job as an editor at the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law.

The conditions of Duvanov's parole require him to report to Kazakh authorities weekly and forbid him from leaving Almaty or making public appearances – such as attending a meeting or going to a restaurant. He must also hand over a portion of his salary to the state, according to the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

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