Kazakh court censors at request of president’s son-in-law

New York, February 4, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a court order issued on Monday that banned all Kazakh media and printing houses from publishing “any information that discredits the honor and dignity” of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, a high-ranking energy executive.

According to the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Kazakh service, the Medeu District Court in Almaty announced Monday that an open letter about Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, published in newspapers Respublika, Golos Respubliki, Vzglyad, and Kursiv on January 26 was incorrect, and ordered the outlets to publicly withdraw the allegations. The judge also banned “all defendants, other mass media and persons from publishing and distributing in mass media and through other carriers in electronic and printed version any information that discredits the honor and dignity of Timur Askarovich Kulibayev,” RFE/RL reported. None of the defendants were present in court, the local press reported.

Kulibayev filed the lawsuit against the critical outlets after they published the letter, by exiled former Energy Minister Mukhtar Ablyazov, alleging that Kulibayev had accepted multimillion-dollar bribes from Chinese oil and gas companies in exchange for lucrative energy contracts. Kulibayev is a deputy board chairman of state welfare fund Samruk-Kazyna, which controls the Kazakh energy sector.

On Tuesday, the Almaty-based printing company Vremya-Print received a court order that told it to cease distribution of all materials “containing information that discredits the honor and dignity of Timur Kulibayev,” the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz reported. Today, Almaty court officers seized from distributors copies of newspaper Svoboda Slova, which reprinted Ablyazov’s letter, Respublika reported.

In January, Kazakhstan assumed the year-long chairmanship of the Organization on Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), a Vienna-based pan-European human rights and security monitor.

“We call on the court to rescind this unacceptable gag order,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “The media has the right to scrutinize Timur Kulibayev the same as it would any other citizen of Kazakhstan. Censorship has no place for the chair of the OSCE.”

Oksana Makushina, Respublika’s deputy editor, told RFE/RL that she and her colleagues learned about the case on Tuesday afternoon when court officers showed up in her newsroom. At a Wednesday press conference, Respublika and Vzglyad representatives denounced the court order and called on journalists, rights activists, and OSCE members to urge the Kazakh government cease official persecution and harassment of independent media.

The journalists said in a statement that their newspapers were singled out from many others who also published the letter.