Prosecutor shuts down two Web sites

New York, June 5, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on prosecutors in the Kazakh financial capital, Almaty, to rescind their decision to close the Web sites of the weekly newspaper Karavan and the online news agency Kazakhstan Today.

On Monday, the prosecutor general ordered the indefinite closure of Karavan‘s Web site for a May 18 article headlined “Chronicle of Events,” which allegedly revealed secrets of the investigation into the kidnappings of two senior managers for the commercial bank Nurbank, according to local press reports. Authorities have not given any explanation for the closure of Kazakhstan Today’s Web site.

According to Karavan Editor-in-Chief Aleksandr Shukhov, the article in question was a list of events from May 22 to 26 that did not reveal any of the investigation’s secrets. “All the facts in the article were already well-known and covered by other media, including Kazakh state television,” Shukov added.

The Web sites of both Karavan and Kazakhstan Today have been inaccessible since May 26, shortly after the Interior Ministry filed charges against President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s estranged son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev, in connection with the bankers’ abduction, according to local press reports. Both Karavan and Kazakhstan Today are part of the Alma-Media holding company, which is owned in part by Aliyev and his wife, Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s daughter. Aliyev is also a part owner of Nurbank.

“The closure of these two Web sites seems to be part of a pattern of harassment of media outlets associated with President Nazarbayev’s estranged son-in-law,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to reverse the decision to shut them down immediately.”

Local journalists and press freedom advocates told CPJ the government is trying to limit coverage by media outlets owned by Aliyev. On May 24, an Almaty court ordered the three-month suspension of Karavan for violating unspecified media regulations. Shukov told CPJ that the paper may lose its license because, under Kazakh law, a publication that fails to print over three months is subject to license revocation.

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