Kazakh authorities interrogate editor, raid newsroom

New York, February 2, 2012–The Kazakh security service, or KNB, must immediately cease intimidating Oksana Makushina, deputy editor of Golos Respubliki, and return reporting equipment confiscated today from the independent weekly, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

For two consecutive days starting Wednesday, KNB agents have interrogated Makushina at their headquarters in Almaty in connection with a press conference Monday at which Makushina spoke in defense of Igor Vinyavsky, imprisoned editor of the independent weekly Vzglyad, she told CPJ. The agents told Makushina they were questioning her and other panelists from the press conference after an unnamed attendee filed a complaint alleging that extremist materials were distributed at the venue.

Makushina spoke at the press conference along with Vinyavsky’s wife, Lana Vinyavskaya, and lawyer Sergey Utkin. All three panelists disputed the legality of imprisoning Vinyavsky, who was detained as part of an ongoing crackdown by the KNB on critical media and opposition activists. The KNB claims that Vinyavsky authored a leaflet in April 2010 which it has branded anti-constitutional; Vinyavsky denies the allegations. Makushina and the other panelists distributed the leaflet at their press conference.

Makushina told CPJ that KNB agents interrogated her about the organizers of the press conference, reasons for her participation, the source of the leaflet, the charges against Vinyavsky, and who distributed the materials at the press conference. The agents, Makushina said, also interrogated her about her personal Skype account and how she uses it to contact her sources and colleagues.

Following her interrogation today, three KNB agents produced a warrant to search the newsroom and accompanied Makushina there, where they confiscated the weekly’s main printer and a personal laptop belonging to Golos Respubliki‘s office manager, which were used to print the materials for the press conference.

“We call on the Kazakh security service to immediately stop harassing Oksana Makushina, return her newspaper’s equipment, and allow her and other independent journalists in Kazakhstan to do their work without fear of reprisal,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We also continue to call for the release of Igor Vinyavsky, who was imprisoned on unfounded extremist charges last month.”

The leaflet, published by the regional press following Vinyavsky’s arrest, carries a photograph of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev with the caption: “Kyrgyzstan got rid of the robbing family of [ousted President Kurmanbek] Bakiyev. Enough tolerating, take [him] to the dumpster!” According to Makushina, there has been no court ruling establishing that the leaflet’s text constituted extremism.

Makushina said unnamed security agents called her Tuesday and asked her to come to the KNB headquarters for what they called “a conversation” the same day, but she insisted they send her a summons. The next day the agents called her around 3:30 pm and asked her to visit the KNB, saying she would be given a written summons at the agency. The document she was handed at the KNB did not contain any information on Makushina’s status, nor reasons for her requested visit to the agency, she told CPJ.