As of December 31, 1998

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

09/28/98XXI VekCensored
09/28/98Big L CompanyCensored
09/26/98XXI VekAttacked, Harassed

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