July 30, 2002
His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev
President of Kazakhstan
Beibitshlik Street 11
Astana, Kazakhstan 473000
Via facsimilie: 011-7-3172-323-073; 011-7-3172-327-274
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned by ongoing threats to press freedom in Kazakhstan, including the continuing harassment of the opposition weekly Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika and its editor Irina Petrushova.
According to Kazakh and international reports, on July 24, the Almaty Inter-district Economic Court ordered the liquidation of the firm PR-Consulting, which publishes Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika. The court found that PR-Consulting had continued to publish the paper despite an April 10 court ruling that suspended the newspaper for allegedly violating administrative regulations, namely the display of the registration date and certificate number on the weekly’s pages.
On July 4, the Almaty District Court handed the newspaper’s editor, Russian citizen Irina Petrushova, an 18-month suspended prison sentence for working in Kazakhstan illegally because she is not a Kazakh citizen. This violation, which is usually only enforced on those in sensitive government posts, normally carries no more penalty than a fine.
Petrushova believes that this prison sentence was designed to intimidate her and told CPJ she believes the legal harassment of her and her newspaper is politically motivated.
“The authorities decided to punish Petrushova for her political views and for putting out a publication that they do not like,” said Yevgeny Zhovtis, head of the Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, in a July 17 report by the Moscow media watchdog the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.
This harassment of Petrushova is merely the latest in a string of attacks on her and her newspaper, which has frequently criticized government policy and investigated high-level corruption. On March 8, someone anonymously sent a funeral wreath to Petrushova. And on May 19, the newspaper’s staff found a decapitated dog’s corpse–with a threatening note–hanging from the grate of an office window. Three days later, the offices were firebombed.
Although a senior Interior Ministry official has said that two men have been arrested in connection with the firebombing and have confessed to carrying out the attack in exchange for money, CPJ sources in Almaty believe that the police investigators have failed to identify the true perpetrators. We call on Your Excellency to urge the police to continue their search and to bring an end to this series of threats and violence against the editor and her paper.
We also urge you to do everything within your power to uphold the principles of press freedom and independence and to stop the harassment of Irina Petrushova. Furthermore, we request that Your Excellency create conditions in which journalists are free to report on events in their country without pressure or interference from political authorities or security forces.
Your Excellency, as the leader of your country, you are at the center of public debate. Therefore, you and other high-ranking government officials must tolerate public scrutiny, including harsh criticism. Journalists cannot fulfill their role as long as the government has the power to criminally prosecute them for their work.
In a separate incident, CPJ is also concerned about the recent death in police custody of Leila Baiseitova, daughter of independent reporter Lira Baiseitova. Sources in Almaty believe that Leila was arrested on spurious drug possession charges and may have been tortured and murdered. The sources think that Leila may have been killed in retaliation for her mother’s May article in the opposition weekly Soldat that featured an interview with a former Geneva prosecutor discussing a Swiss investigation into alleged money laundering by top government officials in Kazakhstan.
We hope that you will direct the authorities in your government to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Baiseitova’s daughter and to make public any findings.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.