Kazakh court bans broadcaster, suspends news website

New York, December 6, 2012–A court in Kazakhstan has banned an independent news outlet on charges of extremism, a ruling that comes within weeks of the country’s election to the U.N. Human Rights Council, according to news reports. Dozens of other independent and opposition news outlets face similar charges that could result in their being shut down.

“We condemn the censorship of independent and opposition media in Kazakhstan and call on authorities to adhere to international principles that guarantee citizens the right to receive and impart news and information,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Kazakhstan does grave damage to its credibility by cracking down on a basic human right within weeks of joining the U.N. Human Rights Council.”

The Bostandyk District Court in Almaty on Tuesday ordered the online news outlet Stan TV to halt news programming after finding it guilty of violating Kazakhstan’s laws on extremism and national security, the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz reported. Representatives of Stan TV were not informed of the court date and were not present at the ruling, Adil Soz said.

The ruling stems from an umbrella case that prosecutors filed in November accusing dozens of independent and pro-opposition outlets of spreading extremist messages and inciting civil unrest through their coverage of the December 2011 deadly clashes between police and striking oil workers in the city of Zhanaozen, in western Kazakhstan. Charges against more than 30 other outlets are pending.

In Tuesday’s verdict, which Adil Soz published online, a judge singled out three Stan TV reports: an August 2011 report on the unsolved killing of a Zhanaozen oil worker on strike; a 2011 story about a Zhanaozen oil worker on strike who stabbed his wife reportedly due to psychological stress; and a February report that criticized the Kazakh government’s human rights ombudsman for his alleged unwillingness to answer questions related to the events in Zhanaozen.

Also Tuesday, the court ordered independent newspaper Vzglyad to suspend distribution and online publication pending the outcome of its trial, Adil Soz reported. Two other papers, Respublika and its affiliated weekly, Golos Respubliki, have already been suspended pending verdicts in their cases.

In an unrelated case, the Bostandyk District Court on Tuesday ordered the independent news website Guljan to suspend publication and distribution for three months, and blocked the website in the country, according to news reports. The court cited a complaint by an Almaty prosecutor that sought the suspension but did not specify reasons, according to the ruling published online by Guljan.

The Guljan staff learned of Tuesday’s ruling the next day when a court officer brought the ruling to the website offices. The staff was not notified of the court proceedings. No representatives from the outlet were present in court when the ruling was made.

This latest wave of repression against independent and opposition news outlets follows Kazakhstan’s election in November to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Following Kazakhstan’s election to the U.N. Human Rights Council in November, the Kazakh Embassy to the United States said that the country would “use its membership to strengthen human rights both at home and abroad.” Instead, CPJ has documented a wave of repression against independent and opposition news outlets critical of the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

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