Security agents seize hospitalized editor

New York, January 7, 2009–Kazakh authorities should immediately release Ramazan Yesergepov, ailing editor of the independent weekly Alma-Ata Info, who was seized from an Almaty hospital on Tuesday by government agents, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

The Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB), whose agents seized Yesergepov, said in a statement that the editor was being investigated for allegedly disclosing state secrets, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. Yesergepov’s newspaper had published two internal KNB memos marked classified alongside an article about a criminal case. The November 21 article (headlined “Who Rules the Country–the President or the KNB?”) said the head of the agency’s Zhambyl regional office had tried to influence a local prosecutor and judge in a tax case involving a local distillery.

Yesergepov was being treated for hypertension at the Cardiology Institute in Almaty, the Kazakh Service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

“Snatching a journalist from his hospital bed and keeping him incommunicado like a dangerous criminal does not become the nation soon to lead the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe–the region’s top human rights monitoring body,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Yesergepov must be immediately released.”

A KNB press release said the editor had not responded to earlier summonses seeking to question him. The KNB did not say whether it was providing medical care for Yesergepov, who reportedly suffers from a chronic condition that requires medication.

Raushan Yesergepova told RFE/RL that the officers did not inform hospital staff where they were taking her husband or why he was being detained. Colleagues later learned from the KNB’s Almaty office that the editor was considered a suspect in a criminal case. He was taken to the Zhambyl regional office in southern Kazakhstan for interrogation, and family members have been barred from seeing him, said Rozlana Taukina, director of the Almaty-based press freedom group Journalists in Danger.

“The KNB abducted Yesergepov from the hospital, did not let him inform his family and doctors, and now deny visitation rights to his family,” Taukina told CPJ.

In December, KNB agents looking for leaked documents searched the Alma-Ata Info newsroom and confiscated seven computer hard drives, Taukina said.