New York, July 16, 2002—In the latest instance of Kazakhstan’s official harassment of independent and opposition journalists, a prominent journalist has been charged with defaming Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Sergei Duvanov, who writes for several Web sites financed by Kazakhstan’s political opposition, was summoned to the Almaty office of the National Security Committee (KNB, successor to the KGB) on the morning of July 9, according to international and Kazakh news reports.
The journalist was informed that a criminal case was being brought against him by the General Prosecutor’s Office for “infringing the honor and dignity of the president.” Under Article 318 of the Kazakh Criminal Code, the charge carries a hefty fine or a maximum three-year prison sentence.
The charges stem from a May 6, 2002, article titled, “Silence of the Lambs,” which was published on the opposition Web site, www.kub.kz. The article repeats allegations published by other media outlets, including some in the United States, which claim that Nazarbayev and his associates were attempting to cover up illegal profits from oil deals and question the legality of the president’s actions in diverting US$1 billion to a Swiss bank account in 1996.
Following the July 9 interrogation, investigators searched Duvanov’s apartment and office and confiscated two computer hard drives, along with several articles and other documentation.
On July 11, the journalist was summoned to the KNB office in Almaty for a second interrogation, which lasted nearly four hours.
“Criminal defamation is all too often used as a weapon to muzzle independent media outlets in Kazakhstan,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Journalists should never be threatened with jail for their work. We call on the Kazakh authorities to cease harassing Duvanov immediately and to abolish Article 318.”