OSCE summit should address Kazakhstan press record

New York, July 19, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to place Kazakhstan’s poor press freedom record on the agenda for its summit planned for later this year. Kazakhstan, the OSCE chair, is scheduled to host the summit in its capital, Astana. 

A meeting of the foreign ministers of the 56 OSCE member states at the Ak-Bulak resort near Almaty concluded on Saturday with Kazakhstan Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev announcing that members had agreed to a summit in Astana. No date was announced.

In outlining the summit’s agenda. Saudabayev said the key topic will be “shaping a united and indivisible security space, free of dividing lines and different levels of security” among Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian nations. In a statement, the OSCE said summit issues will center on security: arms control; conflict prevention; crisis management; peaceful settlement of long-standing conflicts; and countering transnational threats.

In a July 14 letter to the OSCE foreign ministers, CPJ noted that Kazakhstan had failed to live up to promises to improve its press freedom and human rights record. CPJ urged the ministers to address Kazakhstan’s record at the summit, noting that the country’s chairmanship of the OSCE—and its hosting of an OSCE summit—provide the authoritarian regime with unwarranted legitimacy.

“We are disappointed that the OSCE members failed to make Kazakhstan’s press freedom and human rights record among the agenda topics for an OSCE summit in Astana,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Ignoring Kazakhstan’s broken OSCE press freedom commitments would further compromise the mission of the region’s biggest human rights watchdog.”

CPJ research shows that Kazakhstan is holding at least one journalist and one prominent human rights activist in prison in retaliation for their work; at least two independent newspapers have been shut down under government pressure; state censorship has crept onto the Internet; and the government has continued to use bureaucratic pressure—including politicized audits on printing houses—to stifle independent coverage.

The Almaty-based independent weekly Respublika, whose website remains blocked in Kazakhstan, reported today that journalists covering the OSCE ministers’ meeting in Ak-Bulak were prevented from reporting on the work sessions. They were allowed access to the event’s opening ceremony and the final press conference.