Officials harass independent newspaper in Uralsk

New York, January 29, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ongoing harassment of a popular newspaper in western Kazakhstan which exposed local government corruption. The independent bi-weekly Uralskaya Nedelya has been subjected to retaliation from government officials since it began a series on corruption last July, Editor-in-Chief Tamara Yeslyamova told CPJ. Three printing companies refused to print the paper after being harassed by officials, she said.

“Intimidating printing houses has become a favorite tool for silencing critical newspapers in Kazakhstan,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on authorities to stop harassing Uralskaya Nedelya and its printers immediately.”

CPJ research shows the government has repeatedly pressured printing companies that produce opposition or independent newspapers. In January 2006, Kazakhstan’s biggest printing house, Dauir, refused to print seven Almaty-based opposition weeklies. Dauir said an “equipment change” caused it to terminate its contracts with the weeklies, but editors said it was clear they were targeted in retaliation for their critical coverage.

Yeslyamova said that in December the local Poligrafservis printing company, which had produced Uralskaya Nedelya since 2001, informed her that local officials had threatened to close it down if it produced the paper.

The paper was forced to print outside the region after Dastan, the only other printing house in Uralsk, also refused to print Uralskaya Nedelya. The paper signed a contract with A-Poligrafiya in the Aktyubinsk region on January 15. Just three days later, after printing one issue, the printer informed Yeslyamova that they could no longer handle the job due to “unforeseen circumstances.”

On January 25, shortly after the Ak Zhaiyk company in the Atyrau region began to print the paper, an official called Ak Zhaiyk and warned its management not to print Uralskaya Nedelya, the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz reported. Despite the warning, Ak Zhaiyk has upheld its agreement to print the paper, Yeslyamova told CPJ.

In a separate case, on January 11, a local court ordered the paper to pay 300,000 tenge (US$2,378) in damages to the local metallurgical company Metaloizdeliya after Uralskaya Nedelya published an article that alleged the company used government funds allocated to it for the development of a separate project.
The damage award was seized from the paper’s bank account immediately after the court’s decision and before Uralskaya Nedelya had a chance to appeal, Adil Soz reported. By Kazakh law, payment of the damages should be held in abeyance until the appeal is decided, according to Adil Soz, which has lawyers on staff.