A journalist in Astana, the capital, said in a press conference on January 4, 2013, that he had staged his own disappearance in December to attract government attention to ongoing abuses in the country, according to news reports. Local journalists and press freedom organizations condemned the act, which they said caused “great damage” to the Kazakh press.
Tokbergen Abiyev is the 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. He was reported missing on December 20, 2012, several hours after he told Kazakh journalists in a mass text message that he was holding a press conference the next day on corruption that would be a “sensation,” according to the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz.
Abiyev’s wife and his colleagues had called him in the days following his disappearance, but he did not pick up his mobile phone, Adil Soz reported. Abiyev failed to appear at the press conference he had announced, and all attempts to find him had been fruitless, the local press had reported.
On December 31, 2012, police in Astana said they had found Abiyev safe and alive in an apartment he had rented before disappearing, the local press reported.
At the January 4, 2013, press conference, Abiyev said he had rented the apartment so he could spend a month in hiding, news reports said. He said he had hoped his action would get him an audience with President Nursultan Nazarbayev so he could discuss ongoing government corruption in the country, the reports said. “I was planning that authorities–and the president, first of all–would pay attention to the problems of our Kazakh people, to the developments in Kazakhstan. With my action, I wanted to get through to the president so that he could meet me and listen to what I have to say,” Abiyev said, according to Radio Azattyq, the Kazakh service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
But local journalists and press freedom advocates criticized the incident. Zhumabike Zhunusova, a local reporter who attended the press conference, said Abiyev had discredited the journalism profession in the country. “Now, if something happens to somebody, law enforcement agencies would first think if this is yet another similar “action” [and not a real incident],” Zhunusova said, according to Radio Azattyq.
Adil Soz released a statement on Thursday calling Abiyev’s action “professionally unacceptable.”