In Kazakhstan, reporter disappears after writing critical articles

New York, April 18, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply worried about the fate of investigative reporter Oralgaisha Omarshanova who has been missing since March 30. Colleagues believe Omarshanova’s disappearance is related to her journalism for the Astana-based independent weekly Zakon i Pravosudiye (Law and Justice), whose anti-corruption department she directed, local press reports said.

“We are very concerned about our colleague Oralgaisha Omarshanova who has been missing for more than two weeks,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Kazakh authorities to intensify their efforts to find her and to thoroughly investigate the threats that preceded her disappearance.”

At the time of her disappearance, Omarshanova, 39, who uses the pen name Oralgaisha Zhabagtaikyzy, was in Kazaskhtan’s the financial capital, Almaty, on a business trip with several colleagues. The colleagues said they last saw Omarshanova on the afternoon of March 30 getting into a jeep, the Moscow-based news agency Regnum reported.

Four days before her disappearance, Omarshanova had published an article in Zakon i Pravosudiye about ethnic clashes between rival Chechen and Kazakh residents in the Almaty region villages of Kazatkom and Malovodnoye. The clashes, which took place on March 17 and 18 claimed at least five lives, according to local and international press reports. In her report, Omarshanova identified the instigators of the unrest and mentioned their alleged connection to the government and local businesses, the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz reported.

In February, the paper published Omarshanova’s investigative report, which exposed the dangerous working conditions of miners in the central city of Zhezkagan, according to international press reports.

At a press conference in Almaty on Wednesday, the journalist’s brother, Zhanat Omarshanov, told reporters that in the weeks prior to her disappearance Omarshanova had received several death threats by telephone, warning her to stop her reporting, Regnum reported.

During the press conference, Zakon i Pravosudiye reporter Mukhit Iskakov said Omarshanova told him she had purchased a rifle to defend herself after receiving the threats, the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. The broadcaster said police are investigating the disappearance but do not have any information regarding her whereabouts.