Kazakh investigators cast Pavlyuk murder as robbery

New York, March 24, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Kazakh authorities today to thoroughly investigate journalism as a motive in the murder of Kyrgyz journalist Gennady Pavlyuk. Pavlyuk, better known by his pen name, Ibragim Rustambek, died in the hospital on December 22, 2009, after having been thrown from an upper-story window of an apartment building in Kazakhstan’s economic capital, Almaty, a week before. 

Today, Kazakh Interior Ministry spokesman Kuanyshbek Zhumanov told journalists in Astana that law enforcement had completed their investigation into the killing. He said three suspects–two Kazakh and one Kyrgyz–will be given the charges against them on Friday; he neither named the suspects nor the charges. There are conflicting accounts of why Pavlyuk went to Almaty; Zhumanov said the “suspects had lured Pavlyuk to Almaty via the Internet, booked him a hotel room at the hotel Kazakhstan, then tricked him into going to the [crime scene], where, after duct-taping [his hands and legs], they started extorting valuables,” the Kazakh service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted Zhumanov as saying. “However, unable to get what they wanted, they threw him out the window,” he said.

“We are very concerned that Kazakh authorities have classified the killing of Gennady Pavlyuk as a robbery without exhaustively investigating the possibility that he was murdered for his journalism,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on the Kazakh Interior Ministry to continue pursuing all available leads before closing the books on this important investigation.”

Pavlyuk, 40, described by colleagues as one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent journalists, had traveled to Almaty from Bishkek on business in mid-December 2009; the exact purpose of the trip remains unclear. According to some local reports, Pavlyuk intended to start a pro-opposition online newspaper in the next few months, and had traveled to Almaty to meet with potential Kazakh partners on that project. According to other reports, Pavlyuk had undertaken a reporting trip to investigate the activities of a transnational criminal group specializing in car theft.

Ethnically Russian, Pavlyuk had headed the Kyrgyz bureaus of the Russian newspapers Argumenty i Fakty and Komsomolskaya Pravda before becoming the editor-in-chief of the independent Kyrgyz newspaper Bely Parokhoda publication known for its investigations on top-level corruption. In the last months of his life, however, he had abandoned his staff jobs to freelance and plan the launch of his own publication, according to CPJ contacts in the region. In his articles, Pavlyuk often criticized the policies of then Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his government.