Editor detained, newsrooms raided in Kazakhstan

New York, January 24, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention by the Kazakh security service, or KNB, of Igor Vinyavsky, editor of the Almaty-based independent weekly Vzglyad, and calls for his immediate release. Vinyavsky was detained in an ongoing crackdown by the KNB on critical media and opposition activists, which also involved a raid on independent broadcaster Stan TV.

At around 7 p.m. on Monday, two groups of KNB agents simultaneously raided Vinyavsky’s apartment and Vzglyad‘s offices in Almaty and confiscated all reporting equipment. The agents took all eight newsroom computers and reporters’ notebooks from the paper; and Vinyavsky’s personal laptop computer from his apartment. Vinyavsky was detained following the newsroom raid, Vzglyad staffer Vladimir Rodionov told CPJ. The newsroom has been effectively shut down by the raid, but the journalists are looking to restore its work, Rodionov said.

According to a statement published on the KNB website, a criminal case against Vinyavsky was opened Monday, accusing him of “making public calls through the media to violently overthrow Kazakhstan’s constitutional regime.” The agency did not specify through which articles in Vzglyad he allegedly made those calls, Rodionov told CPJ. Vinyavsky is under investigation but has not been formally charged, Rodionov said. If charged and convicted, the editor faces up to seven years in jail.

“We call for the immediate release of Igor Vinyavsky and the return of all confiscated equipment to the Vzglyad staff,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “The Kazakh security service must cease its crackdown on independent and pro-opposition media, including Vzglyad and Stan TV, and stop harassing journalists in retaliation for doing their job.”

Earlier this month, KNB agents in Almaty raided the newsroom of independent online broadcaster Stan TV, demanding video footage and materials recorded during and after the December 16 deadly clashes between police and striking oil workers in the western town of Zhanaozen, Elina Zhdanova, a founder of the Stan TV production company, told CPJ. According to Zhdanova, the agents did not confiscate the materials but did copy all information from Stan TV’s computers.

Five days after the January 10 raid, Zhdanova said, the KNB summoned all 15 of Stan TV’s staffers for interrogation. The summons did not contain any information as to what criminal case was at issue, or in what capacity the journalists were to be interrogated, Zhdanova said. Although the KNB later told the journalists they were interrogated in relation to the events in Zhanaozen, the agents primarily asked the journalists about Stan TV’s reporting, editorial work, and the financing of the company, Zhdanova told CPJ.

On Monday, KNB agents raided the offices and apartments of opposition political activists, who were also detained under the umbrella case of the Zhanaozen clashes, according to the Kazakh service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. At a press conference today in Almaty, local press freedom and human rights groups condemned the crackdown against critical reporters and activists, and demanded that the prosecutor’s office clarify the accusations against Vinyavsky and release him, local press reported.