Imprisoned Kazakh journalist goes on hunger strike

New York, July 8, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the well-being of Ramazan Yesergepov, the ailing imprisoned editor of the now-defunct independent newspaper Alma-Ata Info, who is on a hunger strike for the third consecutive day in a penal colony in the southern Kazakh city of Taraz.

On June 25, Yesergepov announced his decision to go on hunger strike starting July 6 to protest his unlawful imprisonment as well as what he sees as the failure of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to pay attention to the rights violations committed by the organization’s current chair, Kazakhstan.

Despite the fact that Yesergepov had informed the administration of Taraz Prison Colony No. 158/2 of his intentions, prison officials have refused to acknowledge the strike, the Kazakh service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Yesergepov’s wife, Raushan Yesergepova, told CPJ today that her husband is not under medical observation despite the fact that he has a number of illnesses, including coronary disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

“We are very concerned about the well-being of Ramazan Yesergepov, and we call on the prison to ensure that he is placed under adequate medical attention,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on the Kazakh authorities to release him at once.”

Yesergepov has been in prison since January 2009, when agents with the Kazakh security service (KNB) seized him from his bed in an Almaty hospital, where he was being treated for hypertension. In November 2008, Yesergepov published two internal KNB memos in Alma-Ata Info, which attested to the KNB’s attempts to influence a prosecutor and a judge in a criminal tax evasion case.

In early June, as part of a fact-finding mission in Kazakhstan, CPJ tried to visit Yesergepov in jail to assess the conditions of his imprisonment first-hand, but was denied access to him. Regardless, CPJ was able to interview the editor behind bars.

In a June 25 letter from prison, which he addressed to the heads of the 55 OSCE member-states other than Kazakhstan, Yesergepov wrote about the failure of the organization to act as a human rights monitor: “In pursuit of other interests, you forgot about the key function of this once-authoritative organization and became involuntary accomplices in what goes on in my country now. Therefore, starting on July 6, I am going on hunger strike until I receive a concrete OSCE reaction to the situation with human rights and freedoms in Kazakhstan.”

July 6 marks the completion of one-half of the editor’s three-year jail term. According to Kazakh law, Yesergepov now has the right to apply for early release.