Journalist’s prison sentence commuted

New York, April 27, 2004-The prison sentence of Kazakh journalist Vladimir Mikhailov, director of Rifma Ltd. media company and founder of the opposition weekly Diapazon, was commuted yesterday into 180 hours of community service, according to the Almaty-based media foundation Adil Soz.

Mikhailov, who had been in detention for 42 days awaiting an appeal hearing, was released yesterday, Adil Soz reported.

The journalist was sentenced to one year in prison on March 17 by the City Court in the northwestern town of Aktobe for failing to comply with a 2002 court ruling ordering him to move an outside wall on the rental property of Arsenal, the publishing house that prints Diapazon. The court ruled that Arsenal was occupying property belonging to a local construction company.

Yevgeny Zhovtis, director of the Almaty-based Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, says that because Mikhailov neither owns nor runs the printing house, he should not have been held legally responsible for the wall.

According to Adil Soz, the legal action against Mikhailov is an attempt by city administrators to shutter Diapazon, a large-circulation publication known for criticizing city administrators, the Prosecutor General’s office, and local judges. See CPJ’s protest letter from April 1.

Mikhailov’s defense team appealed the March 17 verdict immediately, Zhovtis said.

On April 19, the Aktobe Regional Court announced its decision to postpone the appeal hearing on Mikhailov’s case until April 26 after the regional prosecutor asked for additional time to study the case, the news agency Interfax-Kazakhstan reported.

In response, Mikhailov went on a hunger strike, his lawyer, Klara Naydenova, told Interfax-Kazakhstan. Mikhailov continued his strike until yesterday’s hearing.