Internet journalist beaten in Almaty

New York, January 20, 2008–Several unidentified assailants attacked Yermek Boltai, a reporter and editor for the Web site of the Kazakh service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in Kazakhstan’s financial capital of Almaty on Sunday, the broadcaster reported. The assailants reportedly did not take any of the editor’s valuables, including his money and cell phone. 

The attackers hit Boltai with bottles and kicked him, and he was treated for a concussion, RFE/RL‘s Kazakh Service Director Yedige Magauin told CPJ. Boltai joined RFE/RL in May 2008 as a Web site editor and has mainly reported on social issues. Recently, he reported on social protests over the faltering economy in Almaty, Magauin said. Almaty police are investigating the attack, he said.

“We are shocked by the vicious beating of Yermek Boltai and call on Kazakh authorities to bring his assailants to justice,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Authorities should thoroughly investigate the motives for this attack, including Boltai’s journalism.”

Boltai told CPJ he was attacked by five young men outside his apartment building at around 9 p.m. on Sunday. “They first asked for cigarettes, but I had none, and then they suddenly started beating me,” Boltai said. When the journalist tried to escape, one of the assailants, he said, hit him with a bottle, and he received another heavy blow to his head from behind, RFE/RL reported. “I was able to get up after they hit me with a bottle, but they hit my head with another one.” When Boltai collapsed, the attackers kept kicking him in the stomach and in the head, he told CPJ.

This is the second attack on a journalist in a month in Kazakhstan. In December, an unidentified man stabbed Artyom Miusov, a reporter with the opposition weekly Taszhargan, outside an Almaty supermarket. Police have not yet reported progress in that attack.