Kazakh reporter sentenced to ‘restriction of freedom’

New York, November 7, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the conviction and sentence on defamation charges of Valery Surganov, a reporter with the independent news website Guljan, and calls for his full acquittal on appeal.

Today, the Medeu District Court in Kazakhstan’s economic capital, Almaty, convicted Surganov of defaming Sandzhar Aliyev, a Pavlodar region financial police officer, in a July article, and ordered the journalist’s “restriction of freedom” for a period of 18 months, the local press reported. The court also ordered Syurganov to publish a retraction and pay 100,000 tenge (about US$675) in damages to Aliyev. The journalist is planning to appeal the verdict.

The Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz reported that the terms of Surganov’s “restriction of freedom” include a ban on leaving Almaty without obtaining police consent; a 9 p.m. daily curfew; and a ban on visiting places of public recreation, such as bars, restaurants, and night clubs.

Aliyev’s criminal lawsuit stems from a July article in Guljan, in which Surganov accused Aliyev of promiscuity, and cited a former colleague of Aliyev’s as saying that the officer had been detained for allegedly raping a local woman in the past but had used his official status and connections to avoid prosecution. In his criminal defamation claim against Surganov, which was obtained and published by Guljan in August, Aliyev denied all allegations.

Aliyev filed his lawsuit in July, and asked the court to imprison Surganov for three years; he also asked for 10 million tenge (US$67,500) in moral damages, the Kazakh service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Kazakh authorities promised to decriminalize defamation and insult prior to assuming the 2010 chairmanship of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but have yet to live up to their commitment.

“We are alarmed by the sentence handed to Valery Surganov, and urge Kazakh authorities to remove the restrictions on his freedom on appeal,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Kazakhstan must fulfill its pledge to decriminalize defamation and leave similar disputes to the civil courts.”