Kazakh prosecutor ignores threats against journalist

New York, May 17, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists is appalled by the refusal of a regional prosecutor in Uralsk, western Kazakhstan, to investigate a threatening call against Alla Zlobina, a regional correspondent for the embattled independent weekly Golos Respubliki. Zlobina’s daughter was also intimidated. CPJ calls upon regional authorities to thoroughly probe the incidents and bring those responsible to justice.

At around 7 a.m. on April 29, an anonymous caller phoned Zlobina at home. The caller played her a recorded conversation that she had over the phone with her daughter, Golos Respubliki and the regional online news agency KazTAG reported. After the call, an administrator at her daughter’s high school started harassing her daughter over the classes she had missed due to illness, and accused her of being “as scandalous as her mother.”

“Given the history of threats and intimidation against Golos Respubliki‘s journalists, it is imperative that the authorities take seriously the threat against Alla Zlobina,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “The authorities must investigate and prosecute all responsible for such intimidation.” 

Zlobina told CPJ that she filed a complaint to the regional prosecutor’s office, and asked the authorities to investigate the threats. On Thursday, she received a reply from Batyr Dzhazbayev, an Uralsk prosecutor, who said that he could not investigate the call due to the lack of a prosecutor’s request, and because there was no criminal case opened into the incident. In his reply, made available to CPJ by Zlobina, Dzhazbayev also advised her to file a complaint to police.

Zlobina told CPJ she believes that the threats and intimidation of her daughter stem from the article she wrote for Golos Respubliki, in which she accused regional authorities of being partially responsible for the floods that hit western Kazakhstan in April.

A local water management specialist, whom Zlobina quoted in her article, also came under official pressure, Zlobina told CPJ. According to Zlobina, local authorities pressured her source, and forced him to refute his statement, but he refused.

The floods forced the relocation of thousands of local residents within the country and cost the Kazakh government at least 870 million Kazakh tenge (US$6 million) in disaster response funds, local press reported.

“It became clear to me that all these events–the phone call, the intimidation of my daughter, and the pressure put on my source –are not mere coincidences,” Zlobina told CPJ. “I would have ignored the threats as I did in the past, but I fear for the safety of my daughter,” she said.

Golos Respubliki is the latest reincarnation of the embattled independent weekly Respublika, which has long been at odds with the Kazakh authorities.

As recounted in CPJ’s 2010 special report on Kazakhstan’s silencing of the press, Respublika‘s staff have endured severe intimidation, death threats, physical attacks, politicized audits, and politically motivated prosecution over the past decade. Authorities have economically squeezed printing facilities and distributors to the point where staff are forced to produce the paper on office equipment and hand it out themselves. Finally, Respublika‘s site is blocked in Kazakhstan, so content can only be accessed through proxy servers and via social networks like Facebook and Twitter.