Exiled editor of Kazakh opposition weekly detained for two days

New York, April 25, 2005—Police in the Russian city of Volokolamsk detained Irina Petrushova, editor of the Kazakh opposition weekly Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye, for two days at the request of Kazakh authorities, she told the Committee to Protect Journalists shortly after her release today.

Petrushova, a 2002 winner of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, said Kazakh authorities had sought to extradite her on alleged tax violations, but the prosecutor- general’s office in Moscow determined she was being held improperly. Petrushova, taken into custody Saturday afternoon, was released at 3 p.m. today after the prosecutor ruled that the Kazakh warrant had expired, she said in a telephone interview.

Petrushova fled Kazakhstan in 2002 after enduring threats and harassment. A Russian citizen, she relocated to her home country and continues to edit the Kazakh weekly even as Kazakh authorities continue to pursue her. Petrushova was detained by police in St. Petersburg on similar tax charges in March 2004, but released after Russian police said they did not want to get involved in Kazakhstan’s political matters. [Read more about Petrushova’s earlier detention.]

Russian authorities appeared to use a ruse to pick up Petrushova over the weekend. Authorities told her Friday that her passport renewal was ready at the Interior Ministry’s Passport and Visa Service in Volokolamsk. But when Petrushova arrived at the passport office on Saturday, she said, four police officers took her to the Interior Ministry’s temporary detention unit, where she was searched and held for the next two days. Police denied Petrushova’s lawyer, Vladimir Bityutskih, access to his client until he threatened to publicize the detention, according to Petrushova and Russian press reports.

Petrushova said the detention left her and her relatives fearful. “My family and I were afraid that I might be abducted and taken some place,” Petrushova told CPJ.

“We condemn the detention of our colleague Irina Petrushova,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said today. “It is outrageous that Kazakh authorities continue to harass and intimidate her in exile in neighboring Russia.”

Petrushova has faced a pattern of harassment from Kazakh authorities. She was forced to leave Kazakhstan in fall 2002 after numerous incidents of harassment and intimidation in retaliation for her reporting on high-level corruption. Her newspaper had to change its name after being subjected to politically motivated lawsuits. And between 2000 and 2002, Delovoye Obozreniye Respublika (now Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye), was forced to change its printer numerous times after government officials pressured printers into refusing services to the weekly. In March 2002, Petrushova received a funeral wreath from an anonymous “fan;” two months later, Respublika‘s staff in Almaty found a decapitated dog hanging from an office window with a threatening note attached. (The dog’s head was later found at Petrushova’s door with a similar note.) Three days after that incident, the newspaper’s offices were firebombed. Fearing for her safety, Petrushova finally left Kazakhstan for Russia.

Petrushova’s weekend detention coincided with the Eurasia Media Forum in Kazakhstan’s financial capital, Almaty, which concluded yesterday. The international conference, whose major organizer is Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daughter, Dariga, drew international executives and journalists to talk about press freedom and other topics. Some opposition and press freedom advocates saw the forum as an effort to deflect international attention away from the government’s tightening grip on opposition media.

Today, Kazakhstan authorities published a law that bans election street rallies, apparently an attempt to prevent an uprising similar to Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” Reuters reported. Presidential elections in Kazakhstan are scheduled for December 2006.