Kazakh reporter assaulted after covering oil workers strike

New York, March 30, 2010—Kazakh authorities must thoroughly investigate a brutal attack in the city of Aktobe that left Igor Larra, a correspondent for the Almaty-based independent weekly Svoboda Slova (Freedom of Speech), with a concussion and other head injuries, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Larra (a pen name for the journalist Igor Kim) had extensively covered a strike by workers for the national oil producer KazMunayGas in the southwestern city of Zhanaozen. The strike, one of the biggest labor actions ever in Kazakhstan’s oil producing industry, led to the dismissal of the company’s local managers, according to local and international press reports.

On March 22, about two weeks after Larra began covering the issue, three men approached the journalist near his Aktobe home, called out his name, and said they had “greetings from Zhanaozen,” according to local press freedom groups. The assailants then beat and kicked the journalist, primarily about the head, leaving him with a broken nose and facial bruises in addition to the concussion, said Rozlana Taukina, head of the Almaty-based press freedom group Journalists in Danger. She said Larra reported the assault to police.

“We condemn the brutal attack on our colleague and call on law enforcement officials in Aktobe to quickly apprehend and prosecute all responsible,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Those who beat Igor Larra were doing someone else’s bidding. The people who ordered the assault must be brought to account as well.”

Larra had broken news of the strike on March 7 and continued to report from the scene until the walkout ended on March 19, Taukina told CPJ. Following his first reports, regional authorities harassed and detained journalists with the independent newspaper Golos Respubliki and television channel Stan-TV, who travelled to Zhanaozen to cover the events, the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz