Prosecutor suspends television station and newspaper

New York, May 25, 2007—A court in the financial capital, Almaty, ordered the immediate suspension of the television station Kommerchesky Televizionny Kanal (KTK) and the weekly newspaper Karavan on Thursday for alleged violations of Kazakh media laws.

“Kazakh prosecutors are selectively using vague legal provisions to silence media outlets,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We urge authorities to reverse the order and allow the outlets to resume work.”

Six police officers and four employees of the prosecutor general’s office came to the station at 5 p.m., halted its broadcast, and suspended the station’s operations for three months, the International Press Institute said. Prosecutors accused the station of broadcasting predominantly in Russian in violation of what is commonly known as the “language law,” a provision that requires half of all programming to be in Kazakh, according to local and international press reports. Authorities have not applied the eight-year-old law to KTK before, and the station’s format has not changed.

Authorities also suspended for three months the Russian-language weekly Karavan for violating unspecified media regulations. Staff members denied that they had broken any rules and said they intend to appeal Thursday’s ruling to the Almaty city court. “We hope the city court will give its objective assessment of the procedural document because the newspaper Karavan is a law-abiding publication,” the Kazakhstan Today news agency quoted the paper’s lawyer, Svetlana Shamychkova, as saying.

The suspensions came a day after Rakhat Aliyev, owner of both media outlets and son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, was charged with kidnapping and assaulting two senior employees of Nurbank, a commercial bank that the executive partly owns. Aliyev has denied involvement in the disappearance of the two men and referred to them as “swindlers on the run,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

Local journalists attribute suspension of the outlets to their coverage of the Nurbank scandal and tensions between members of the presidential family. Aliyev is married to the president’s daughter, Dariga, who until recent years was seen as a possible presidential successor. Dariga Nazarbayeva and her husband have gained considerable political influence, wealth, and independence through their ownership of several popular media outlets.

On Tuesday, the Almaty prosecutor’s office sent KTK and Karavan letters warning them not to cover the details of the bankers’ disappearance without the permission of law enforcement agencies, according to local and international press reports.