Press freedom conditions deteriorated significantly ýn Kazakhstan during 2002. Direct criticism of the president, his family, and his associates is considered seditious, and the government’s growing persecution of the media has increased self-censorship. Furthermore, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has consolidated his control over the airwaves and newsstands ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for 2004 and 2006, respectively.
Some local analysts say that Nazarbayev expects to face no serious international repercussions for his crackdown on the media and opposition because of his cooperation with the United States in its “war on terror.” Kazakhstan has agreed to let the U.S. military use three of its airfields for refueling and emergency landings.
Facing internal threats from an increasingly cohesive and assertive opposition, as well as a pending U.S. Department of Justice investigation into allegations that the president and those close to him accepted hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars in bribes from American oil companies, Nazarbayev methodically stifled any media coverage that criticized him or his policies. Media outlets that reported on the newly formed opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) party and official corruption in the energy industry were particularly vulnerable to government persecution.
For instance, on March 5, the government suspended the broadcast license for Tan, a popular Almaty-based opposition television station, for “technical” violations. In the weeks that followed, the station went off the air several times because of damaged broadcasting equipment and was eventually forced off the air until September, when a group of pro-government managers took over the station. Local journalists say the station was harassed for its coverage of opposition activities. In early 2002, Tan had broadcast live a five-hour meeting during which opposition party members and nongovernmental organizations criticized various government policies. The station also covered a standoff between police officers and DVK leader Galmuzhan Zhakiyanov, who had sought refuge at the French Embassy in Almaty. The police were trying to arrest Zhakiyanov on politically motivated charges.
Irina Petrushova, founder and editor-in-chief of the Almaty-based opposition newspaper Respublika and winner of CPJ’s 2002 International Press Freedom Award, endured a sustained campaign of harassment for her reporting on government corruption and criticism of officials. The newspaper was forced to change its printer numerous times after government officials intimidated printing companies into cutting off their services to the publication. On May 19, Respublika staff found a decapitated dog’s corpse hanging from an office window with an attached note that read: “There won’t be a next time.” Three days later, assailants threw Molotov cocktails into the office, destroying much of the building and technical equipment.
The courts, meanwhile, prosecuted Respublika, citing a number of legal technicalities. On July 4, an Almaty court handed Petrushova an 18-month suspended prison sentence for violating a rarely enforced labor code. And on July 24, another Almaty court ordered the liquidation of the firm PR-Consulting, which published the newspaper, because it continued printing the newspaper despite an April 10 court ruling suspending Respublika for a minor administrative infraction. Amid growing security risks, Petrushova fled Kazakhstan, but she continues to edit the newspaper from Moscow.
Several other journalists were targeted throughout 2002 in what appeared to be an escalating campaign against the media. On May 21, according to newspaper staff, four assailants broke into the offices of the Almaty-based opposition newspaper SolDat, stole expensive technical equipment, and threatened further attacks if the newspaper continued publishing.
On the evening of August 28, three unknown assailants beat and stabbed Sergei Duvanov, a prominent journalist and political commentator. According to Duvanov, the attackers told him, “If you carry on, you’ll be made a total cripple.” The attack occurred seven weeks after he was charged with “infringing the honor and dignity of the president” in an article about alleged official corruption. Duvanov faces a fine or a maximum three-year prison sentence if convicted.
On October 27, Duvanov’s case took an ominous new turn when he was detained on charges of allegedly raping a minor. The charges came just as Duvanov was preparing to leave for the United States, where he was scheduled to give a series of talks at think tanks in Washington, D.C., and New York about political conditions in Kazakhstan. Duvanov denied the rape accusation, saying it was a government effort to discredit him. Suspicion was heightened when local journalists discovered that a press release handed out by police about Duvanov’s detention had been prepared by the presidential administration hours before his arrest. Duvanov was formally charged on November 7, and his trial began at the end of December.
Authorities also actively obstructed news and information on the Internet. The online newspaper Navigator became inaccessible on May 20, soon after it published an interview with a Geneva-based prosecutor investigating suspicious Swiss bank accounts held by Nazarbayev and other senior Kazakh officials. The Russia-based opposition Web site Eurasia, meanwhile, has been forced to change its Web address often because the government has repeatedly blocked access to the site.
The Ministry of Transportation and Communications announced that it had suspended the license of the Almaty-based opposition TAN TV for six months, according to international press reports. Several days prior to the suspension, Tan TV had broadcast a statement from several local parliamentarians who criticized President Nursultan Nazarbayev for transferring state funds to a secret Swiss bank account, the online independent newspaper Navigator reported.
The ministry, however, claimed that the suspension was due to the station’s faulty transmitter, improper registration of equipment, poor sanitary conditions, and violations of a language law requiring media outlets to broadcast at least half of their material in Kazakh.
Nachnyom s Ponedelnika
The Bostandyk District Court found the Almaty-based weekly Nachnyom s Ponedelnika guilty of not publishing a proper masthead and ordered the paper to suspend publication for three months, according to local press reports. The verdict came in retaliation for a March 1 live telephone interview the newspaper had conducted between journalists, politicians, and the exiled former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, a frequent critic of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the BBC reported.
The state-run Kazakh telephone company cut off the interview, and all the newspaper’s telephone lines stopped working. On March 13, officials from the Bostandyk District Court sealed off the paper’s office.
Irina Petrushova, Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika
Petrushova, founder and editor-in-chief of Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika, an opposition newspaper based in the southern city of Almaty, received a funeral wreath from an anonymous sender. Journalists at the newspaper, which is known for its critical coverage of the Kazakh government, believe that the threat was politically motivated.
Bakhytzhan Ketebayev, Tan TV
Ketebayev, president of the opposition Tan TV, was found guilty of violating copyright laws and ordered to pay an 8,000 tenge (US$53) fine by the Almaty City Court, the BBC reported. The court ruled that Tan TV showed two Russian movies without copyright permission, even though Ketebayev provided documentary evidence that the station had obtained permission from a Moscow-based film distribution company. According to Kazakh sources, the verdict came in retaliation for Tan TV’s critical coverage of the government.
TAN TV was forced off the air in the early morning hours after unidentified individuals shot nine holes through the station’s transmission cable with a rifle, according to international press reports. Journalists from TAN found several empty cartridges near the cable later that morning.
Ruslan Tairov, TAN TV
Tairov, a cameraman for the opposition TAN TV, was beaten by a group of unidentified individuals after he began filming police officers who were beating an unidentified cameraman from Irbis Television. Tairov was later hospitalized. The journalists were filming the arrest of the wife of an opposition leader during a standoff at the French Embassy in Almaty, according to local press reports. Officers also confiscated the Irbis cameraman’s videotape and damaged his camera.
Unidentified vandals damaged the opposition TAN TV’s newly installed transmitter and pierced the transmission cable with a nail, disrupting the station’s broadcasting, the BBC reported. On June 18, TAN TV held a press conference to announce that the Ministry of Transportation and Communications had refused to reissue the station a permit to go back on the air. However, according to the online independent newspaper Navigator, TAN TV began broadcasting again on September 23, after a new pro-government team took over the station’s management.
Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika
Staff at the opposition newspaper Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika found a decapitated dog’s corpse hanging from an office window with an attached note that read, “There won’t be a next time,” according to journalists in Almaty. The following day, Irina Petrushova, the paper’s founder and editor-in-chief, found the dog’s head in the building’s yard. Journalists at the newspaper, which is known for its critical coverage of the Kazakh government, believe that the threats were politically motivated.
Bakhytgul Makinbai, SolDat
Makinbai, a correspondent with the Almaty opposition newspaper SolDat, and Kenzhe Aitpakiyev, a staff member, were assaulted by four assailants who broke into the paper’s offices. According to the two victims, the assailants beat them, stole expensive technical equipment, and threatened further attacks if the newspaper continued publishing. Journalists at the newspaper, which is known for its critical coverage of the Kazakh government, believe that the attack was politically motivated. Police are investigating the incident, but no progress had been reported by year’s end.
Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika
Assailants threw Molotov cocktails into the office windows of Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika, an opposition newspaper based in the southern city of Almaty. No one was injured in the attack, but the resulting fire destroyed much of the office, including the publication’s technical equipment. Police opened an investigation into the incident and in July claimed that Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika publisher, Muratbek Ketebayev, had hired two young men to set fire to his own newspaper. The Interior Ministry never charged Ketebayev, and local human rights activists have criticized the police for violating administrative procedures during the inquiry.
Duvanov, who writes for several Web sites financed by Kazakhstan’s political opposition, was summoned to the Almaty office of the National Security Committee, or the KNB, the successor to the KGB, where he was informed that the General Prosecutor’s Office had filed criminal charges against him 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 stemmed from a May 6, 2002, article titled “Silence of the Lambs,” which was published on the opposition Web site www.kub.kz. The article repeated allegations published by other media outlets, including some in the United States, claiming that Nazarbayev and his associates were attempting to cover up illegal profits from oil deals. The report also questioned 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 documents. On July 11, the journalist was summoned to the KNB office in Almaty for a second interrogation, which lasted nearly four hours. According to the opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, authorities have not pursued these charges, though the case remained open at year’s end.
Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika
The Almaty Inter-District Economic Court ordered the liquidation of the firm PR-Consulting, which publishes the opposition newspaper 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 failing to display the registration date and certificate number on the weekly’s pages.
Artur Platonov, KTK
Platonov, the well-known host of the weekly television program “Portrait of the Week” on the private station KTK, was brutally assaulted by three assailants as he was driving home. The journalist was hospitalized with a broken nose and contusions. The suspected attackers, three former police officers, were detained and questioned the night of the attack but were later released.
The journalist’s colleagues believe the attack is connected to Platonov’s work. “Portrait of the Week” often criticizes Kazakh police and government authorities, and Platonov has received numerous threats in the past. The suspects maintain, however, that they stopped Platonov because he was driving recklessly, and that they used force after the journalist sprayed them with mace. Platonov says he used the spray in self-defense.
Sergei Duvanov, free-lance
Duvanov, a free-lancer who writes for opposition-financed Web sites, was severely beaten while returning to his home in Almaty at around 9:45 p.m. He took the elevator to his fourth floor apartment, where he was attacked by three men with clubs as he stepped on to the landing, said CPJ sources. Because there are no lights in the stairwell, he was unable to identify his attackers. When the men left, a neighbor called an ambulance, and the journalist was taken to the hospital.
At a September 29 press conference, Duvanov’s colleagues at the Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law–where he works as the editor-in-chief of the organization’s bulletin, Human Rights in Kazakhstan and the World–were told that in addition to severe bruising and a concussion, Duvanov suffered light knife wounds to his arms and chest. He also had difficulty speaking and lifting his head.
Duvanov said that in response to his question, “Why are you beating me?” one of his attackers said, “You know why. And if you carry on, you’ll be made a total cripple.” Police, who are investigating the attack, visited the journalist in the hospital and reportedly took his notebook and cell phone. No progress in the case had been reported by year’s end. Kazakh authorities have frequently harassed Duvanov, a political commentator who is well known for his critical analyses of political conditions in the country.
Sergei Duvanov, Prava Cheloveka v Kazakhstane i Mire
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Early in the morning, a group of police officers and officials from the KNB security service confiscated 1,000 copies of the pro-opposition Assandi Times newspaper without explanation at the airport in the northern city of Pavlodar. The newspapers had arrived by plane from Almaty, where the paper is based. Marat Tulindinov, a local representative of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan opposition party, arrived at the airport to pick up the newspapers, but the officials informed him that they had already taken the publication.