August 9, 2000
His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev
President of Kazakhstan
Beibitshlik Street 11
Astana, Kazakhstan 473000
VIA FAX: 011-7-3272-637-633
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged by your government’s apparent efforts to shut down the independent newspapers SolDat and Vremya Po for reprinting articles from foreign media about alleged corruption in the Kazakh government.
In June and early July of this year, according to CPJ sources, both papers reprinted stories from respected international publications alleging that top Kazakh government officials, including Your Excellency, had accepted massive bribes from American and Russian businessmen in exchange for favorable contracts to reprocess iron and aluminum ore and to develop oil fields in the Kazakh part of the Caspian Sea.
On July 17, acting on a complaint that was apparently filed by one of the newspaper’s readers, the Almaty prosecutor’s office opened a criminal-defamation case against Yermurat Bapi and Argyngazy Madiyanov, respectively editor-in-chief and director of the opposition weekly SolDat (formerly Dat). Bapi and Madiyanov are accused of insulting Your Excellency by reprinting two articles about high-level corruption in Kazakhstan from the Web sites of the U.S.-based Fortune magazine and the Italian newspaper Corrierre della Sera. The case is now being investigated by the local department of the National Security Committee.
Two weeks earlier, the prosecutor’s office notified SolDat that it was launching an investigation into the newspaper’s allegedly defamatory May 30 article “Decembrists accuse Nazarbayev,” which SolDat had reprinted from the Web site of the Information Analytical Center Eurasia (www.eurasia.org.ru). The article held Your Excellency responsible for violent ethnic clashes in the former Kazakh capital, Almaty, in December 1986.
The next day, Kazakh customs officials seized the newspaper’s entire print run at the Russian-Kazakh border and arrested Bapi, who was accompanying the shipment. The editor was held in custody for a few hours and then released.
SolDat had been printing in Russia for about a month, ever since local printing companies started refusing to print the paper, allegedly under pressure from Kazakh authorities. Even this will be impossible if customs officials continue to block the paper from being imported.
According to CPJ’s local sources, the investigators have frozen the newspaper’s bank accounts. As a result, on July 10, SolDat‘s entire staff was placed on indefinite unpaid leave. The newspaper’s publication is currently suspended.
In a separate incident, another Almaty newspaper, the Russian/English-language biweekly Vremya Po, has come under similar pressure. On July 6, the newspaper’s regular printer, the state-owned company Dauir, refused to continue printing Vremya Po on the grounds that the paper had an overdue balance. However, local sources told CPJ that the real reason behind the refusal was that government officials had pressured Dauir to stop printing Vremya Po after July 3, when the paper reprinted articles on the corruption scandal that had already appeared in Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal. Ever since, the paper has only been able to publish on the Internet.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ protests your government’s blatant harassment of the independent press in Kazakhstan. The freedom to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media,” as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is essential to the development of a healthy political system. There is no possible justification for censoring legitimate news coverage simply because it happens to be critical of Your Excellency’s government.
We therefore urge you to ensure that SolDat and Vremya Po are allowed to resume publishing, and to create an atmosphere in which all journalists may work without fear of reprisal.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.
Ann K. Cooper