Information Ministry orders closure of opposition weekly

New York, May 10, 2005 – CPJ condemns the closure of the leading opposition weekly Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye (Republic Business Review) by The Kazakh Culture, Information, and Sports Ministry.

Last Thursday in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial capital, Galina Dyrdina, the weekly’s deputy editor told a press conference that editorial staff will not publish the paper’s next issue but will appeal the May 4 closure order in court. The order contained no explanation of the reasons behind the closure, the weekly’s staff said.

The newspaper’s lawyer, Sergei Utkin said the Information Ministry’s action has no legal authority to order the shuttering, because, in accordance to Kazakh law, only the newspaper’s owner or a court has the jurisdiction to close down the publication, according to the news agency Interfax. “They [the Information Ministry] blatantly abused their powers,” Utkin said.

The order stems from a civil lawsuit against the weekly’s owner, the Bastau company, which was also ordered closed, Oksana Makushina, Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye journalist, told CPJ in a telephone interview yesterday. The lawsuit, in turn, stemmed from a transcript of interview with Kazakhstan-born Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky that Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye published January 20 in Respublika Analitichesky Yezhenedelnik (Republic Analytical Weekly), an analytical supplement that ran as a separate title that day.

The interview was originally broadcast by the Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) on January 17 and contained comments by Zhirinovsky, an ethnic Russian ultranationalist, that criticized the delineation of the Kazakhstan and Russia border, questioned Kazakhstan’s legitimacy to statehood, and denied the existence of the Kazakh language.

The transcript run in Respublika was prefaced with an editorial comment saying that Zhirinovsky’s statements raised some questions about the future relationship between Russia and Kazakhstan.

In March, the Information Ministry filed a civil suit at the Almaty economic court against Bastau, accusing the company of inciting ethnic hatred by publishing the interview and the introduction. Bastau lost the suit and was ordered closed. The company appealed, but last week the Almaty city court upheld the economic court’s verdict and the Information Ministry issued Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye’s closure.

In an effort to save the paper by legally separating from Bastau, Makushina told CPJ that Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye had changed owners in March and informed the Information Ministry about this change prior to the lawsuit, but the Ministry never acknowledged receiving the information.

Some observers commented last week that the move to close down Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye—one of the few Kazakh publications to criticize President Nursultan Nazarbayev—is an attempt to silence the popular weekly ahead of presidential elections due in December.

“We call upon Kazakh authorities to lift the closure order of Respublika Delovoye Obozreniye and stop their harassment of the weekly.” CPJ’s Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “This was an illegal action by the Information Ministry and it should be reversed as soon as possible.”

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