In advance of your April 12 meeting in Washington with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, we'd like to draw your attention to the deteriorating press freedom conditions in Kazakhstan. Unchecked violence and the arrest of independent reporters, politicized prosecution and harassment of critical outlets, and draconian media and Internet regulation laws tarnish the record of the current chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Kazakhstan’s leadership declared they would uphold the
OSCE’s values and principles as a member and chair of the pan-European human
rights and security watchdog. When placing Kazakhstan’s bid for the
In 2008, Kazakh authorities indeed introduced some legislative amendments, including to the media law, but these were merely cosmetic and did not alleviate harsh penalties for press freedom violations.
Criminal libel and insult and exorbitant fines continue to foster self-censorship among local journalists, and limit public access to alternative news in a country in which all the broadcasters are owned by the state or government affiliates. Insult of the president or his family in the media carries a prison term of up to five years, and public scrutiny of a state official can lead to the bankruptcy of an outlet.
In the last two years, government officials and state agencies filed more than 60 defamation lawsuits against independent newspapers and their staffers, seeking more than half a billion Kazakh tenge (US$3.5 million) in damages. In comparison, the average monthly income is 66,000 Kazakh tenge (about US$450).
In 2009, Nazarbayev
put extra pressure on his critics by signing Internet regulation and privacy
laws; he ignored fierce protests by local and international press freedom
advocates, including CPJ and the
The Internet law effectively equated all Web–based resources—social networking sites, chat rooms, online forums, personal Web pages, and blogs—with traditional media, spread liability to Internet users, and gave state agencies broad authority to block or shut down any online resource critical of the government. It also allowed blocking of access to any international Web site deemed in violation of Kazakh legislation. The broadly worded privacy law restricts reporting on government officials and carries penalties that include closing of a media outlet and imprisonment of up to five years for journalists. Recently, the government announced it has created an agency to monitor “destructive Web sites” and counter “political extremism,” which local press freedom activists told CPJ is really just another means of suppressing Nazarbayev’s critics.
Unchecked violence against independent reporters and politicized arrests of government critics continue to spread fear in the media. In the last 14 months, one journalist was killed and at least four others have been assaulted with impunity in Kazakhstan. All of the attacked reporters work for independent and pro-opposition media outlets, including the U.S. government-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which often criticizes Nazarbayev and his government. Gennady Pavlyuk, 40, an independent journalist from neighboring Kyrgyzstan was found unconscious on December 16, 2009, in the city of Almaty, sprawled on the overhang of an apartment building entrance, his hands and legs bound with tape; he died six days later without regaining his consciousness. Kazakh authorities have yet to solve Pavlyuk’s brutal killing.
When you meet with
President Nazarbayev on April 12, we ask that you remind him of the commitments
his government made as the
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters.