Opposition journalist beaten for second time

New York, April 26, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the vicious beating by 10 unidentified assailants of a journalist from a suspended opposition newspaper in Kazakhstan. Kenzhegali Aitbakiyev of Aina Plyus was beaten unconscious as he was walking in the financial capital, Almaty, late Sunday, local and international press reported. Aitbakiyev, who has worked at Aina Plyus since its founding eight years ago, was also assaulted by unknown attackers in March.

Aitbakiyev, 32, lay unconscious in the street for four hours after the assault. The attackers did not rob him. He suffered a broken jaw and nose, concussion and heavy bruising. Doctors at the Almaty regional hospital described the injuries as serious, the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported.

“We condemn this brutal assault, and note with alarm that it is not the first time Kenzhegali Aitbakiyev has been beaten,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on the Kazakh authorities to launch a thorough investigation and bring those responsible to justice.”

Aina Plyus
editor Ermurat Bapi said he believed the attack was connected to Aitbakiyev’s work. Bapi said the paper was one of the few local publications that cover the ongoing “Kazakhgate” scandal, a U.S. investigation into allegations that President Nursultan Nazarbayev and allies accepted bribes from U.S. oil companies in 2000. The Kazakh government has used tax inspections and regulatory lawsuits to harass and censor publications that have covered the story, CPJ research has shown. Aina Plyus has been suspended several times by authorities for alleged technical violations, and had to republish under different names, the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz reported.

In March, a court suspended Aina Plyus for three months for changing its content without first informing authorities. On the eve of the attack on Aitbakiyev, Aina Plyus staff were preparing the first issue of a successor newspaper, The Associated Press reported.