June 7, 2000
His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev
President of Kazakhstan
Almaty, Kazakhstan 480091
VIA FAX: 011-7-3272-637-633
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disturbed by your government’s apparent efforts to intimidate, bankrupt, and ultimately silence the Almaty independent weekly Nachnem s Ponedelnika in response to its revelations of alleged official corruption.
Staff at the newspaper claim they are under pressure from the general prosecutor’s office, from tax inspection officials, and from the mayor of Almaty, Viktor Khrapunov, because of articles that implicate these officials in cases of alleged corruption.
Since October 11, 1998, Nachnem s Ponedelnika has been sued 17 times for defamation, according to CPJ’s research. The majority of the cases were filed by government officials or executives of companies with close links to the government. In three cases, the paper was found guilty of slander and fined a total of 25,935,000 tenge (about US$180,000). Two of the suits were later dropped by plaintiffs, and twelve cases are still being investigated or are pending in the courts. CPJ believes the volume of cases filed against the newspaper suggests systematic harassment and the abuse of privacy laws by public officials.
At a hearing held on May 24, 2000, an Almaty court ordered the seizure of Nachnem s Ponedelnika‘s corporate assets, along with the personal assets of its founder and executive director, Ramazan Yesergepov, as compensation for unpaid fines. Yesergepov objects to the ruling, and claims the newspaper was unable to plead its cause because it was not invited to the hearing, at which the judge also ruled that a criminal case should be opened against Yesergepov himself.
On May 25, over 30 policemen, including representatives of the Special Forces (OMON) and security services, stormed Nachnem s Ponedelnika‘s editorial office and confiscated the entire May 26 print run (53,000 copies), according to newspaper staff and local sources. The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Valeriya Marchenko, told CPJ that the police had no warrant for the raid. They removed research materials, financial records, office equipment, and furniture from the offices, effectively closing the paper.
Yesergepov argues the raid was illegal, since Kazakhstan law stipulates that a media outlet has 10 days to file an appeal after a court ruling that its assets be seized to cover unpaid fines. The law also states that all confiscated property must be catalogued and valued rather than summarily removed. Yesergepov also told CPJ that the police deliberately damaged the newspaper’s equipment, although the law states that seized assets should be handled carefully.
We are also concerned about reports that printers all over the country have been ordered not to publish Nachnem s Ponedelnika, along with the newspapers Do i Posle Ponedelnika and Ponedelnik, which Yesergepov launched following the May 25 raid. Officials allegedly warned printing houses against handling these or any other publications critical of Your Excellency’s regime, according to Amaty-based press freedom advocates.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ protests the judicial intimidation of Nachnem s Ponedelnika. We urge Your Excellency to ensure that all legal proceedings conducted against newspapers in Kazakhstan are handled in accordance with international due-process standards.
We also ask that officials cease attempting to block the publication of material that may be critical of government authorities, and that all journalists in Kazakhstan be allowed to work without fear of reprisal.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.
Ann K. Cooper