Journalist, press club founder disappears in Kazakhstan

New York, December 27, 2012–Kazakh authorities must do their utmost to determine the whereabouts and ensure the safety of journalist Tokbergen Abiyev, who has been missing since December 20, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Abiyev–head of the Astana-based press club Zakon i Pravosudiye (Law and Justice) and editor of the now-defunct newspaper Zakon i Pravosudiye, which covered government corruption–disappeared several hours after he told Kazakh journalists in a mass text message on December 20 that he was holding a press conference at noon the next day which would be a “sensation,” according to the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz. In the message, Abiyev said the title of the press conference would be “The corrupt must be jailed,” Adil Soz reported, but the journalist did not offer further details on the subject of the press conference.

Abiyev was last seen at his office at the press club at around 10 p.m., where he told his colleague Andrei Taranov that he was leaving with a laptop to pick up important materials for the press conference, Adil Soz reported. The group said that the journalist asked Taranov to wait for him at the office, but that he never returned.

Abiyev’s wife called him at around 1 a.m. on December 21, but he did not pick up his mobile phone, Adil Soz reported. Taranov called him at around 4 a.m., but got an automated response that the subscriber was out of coverage. Abiyev failed to appear at the press conference he had announced, and all subsequent attempts to connect with him have been fruitless, the local press reported.

Other Zakon i Pravosudiye journalists have gone missing in recent years. In 2007, Oralgaisha Omarshanova, investigative reporter and head of the anti-corruption department of the paper, disappeared after reporting on ethnic clashes between rival Chechen and Kazakh residents in the Almaty region’s villages of Kazatkom and Malovodnoye, according to news reports. Kazakh authorities have reported no progress in investigating Omarshanova’s disappearance.

“We are severely disturbed by the disappearance of Tokbergen Abiyev, the former editor of Zakon i Pravosudiye newspaper, whose colleague, investigative journalist Oralgaisha Omarshanova, also went missing five years ago and has never been found,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Kazakh authorities to harness all their energy and carry out a thorough and effective investigation into Abiyev’s disappearance. We also urge them to report the progress they have made in Omarshanova’s case.”

Abiyev was imprisoned on alleged bribery charges in July 2008, which his colleagues have said they believed were retaliatory. While in jail, Abiyev was handed another three-year prison sentence for failure to pay moral damages in a 2008 defamation case he had lost, Adil Soz reported. Zakon i Pravosudiye stopped publishing when he was arrested, the report said.

After Abiyev was released from jail, he tried to resume publication of the newspaper, but authorities denied his request, saying the title had already been registered, news reports said. Abiyev then founded a press club under the same name.

  • For more data and analysis on Kazakhstan, visit CPJ’s Kazakhstan page here.