Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 26 (of 30)
Political Environment: 28 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 22 (of 30)
Total Score: 76 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
The media situation continues to suffer from an oppressive environment where legal restrictions, self-censorship, and the risk of retribution hamper independent reporting. Kazakhstan's constitution guarantees freedom of the press but also provides special protection for the president. The authorities allow limited press freedom but safeguard the existing power structure against the dangers that truly independent media might pose. There were fewer examples of government pressure against independent media in 2006 than in 2005, when the country held a presidential election, but new legislative restrictions were passed during the year. Amendments to media legislation signed into law by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in July imposed costly registration fees for journalists, broadened criteria for denying media outlets registration, required news outlets to submit the names of editors with their registration applications, and necessitated reregistration in the event of an address change. The amendments drew widespread condemnation from nongovernmental organizations and media watchdog groups.
Journalists continued to face obstacles in the form of criminal and civil libel suits and occasional physical assaults. Kazis Toguzbayev, a journalist and activist in the unregistered opposition party Alga, faced criminal charges under Article 318 of Kazakhstan's criminal code, which imposes penalties for "undermining the reputation and dignity of the country's president and hindering his activities." Toguzbayev had published two articles on the internet in April and May criticizing Nazarbayev's actions in the context of the February murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev. The cases against Toguzbayev, still pending at year's end, underscored the special protections Kazakh legislation extends to the country's leader. In April, Kenzhegali Aytbakiyev, an editor for the opposition newspaper Ayna-Plus, which had reported on corruption allegations against Nazarbayev, was badly beaten by unknown assailants. Despite calls from Parliament for an investigation, prosecutors failed to take any substantive action after the assault. Ayna-Plus had begun publication after a court in February shut it down under its old name, Zhuma Times.
As in previous years, prominent broadcast media were either state run or controlled by members or associates of the president's family. For example, Nazarbayev's daughter ran several television channels and controlled two of the nation's leading newspapers. Nominally independent media often had ties to the state through subsidies or holding companies. This had several deleterious effects. Media outlets avoided aggressive coverage of sensitive issues, in particular allegations of improper conduct by the president and his family, and provided tendentious coverage according to the interests of the groups that controlled them. This was evident after Sarsenbayev's murder, when various factions within the country's elite used media they controlled to leak compromising information of dubious veracity. Against this backdrop, Culture and Information Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbayev said in May that the state would restore full control over the Khabar Media Holding Company, controlled by Nazarbayev's daughter. The state had not followed through on the move by year's end. Independent print publications were hampered by low circulation and government influence over printing and distribution facilities. In January, the printing company Dauir – directed by the president's sister-in-law – briefly refused to print seven Almaty-based opposition newspapers. The internet provided a refuge of sorts for Kazakhstan's beleaguered independent press, although there were reports of government interference in the form of monitoring and blocking of opposition websites. Moreover, less than 3 percent of the Kazakh population had internet access, and as the Toguzbayev case indicated, the authors of internet publications were as vulnerable to the country's strict libel laws as other journalists.
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