Embattled Respublika journalists targeted in Kazakhstan

New York, February 6, 2013–Authorities in Kazakhstan should cease harassing the staff of embattled independent newspaper Respublika, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The newspaper was one of several publications targeted by Kazakh authorities and shut down in December on politicized anti-state and extremism charges, according to CPJ research and news reports.  Respublika, which still operates a website, has changed its title several times over a period of years to continue publishing despite prosecutions and official harassment.

Both Tuesday and today, Almaty prosecutors came to the newsroom of Ripablik, the current successor newspaper to Respublika, and handed staffers official warnings that the individuals are banned from publishing, the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz reported.

According to press reports, the journalists started Ripablik in January. During their raid today, prosecutors told them they are banned from working together or publishing, based on the November case against Respublika and dozens of other news outlets. On Tuesday, they also threatened journalist Tatiana Trubacheva, Respublika‘s former chief editor, with criminal prosecution for an alleged violation of the December verdict against the newspaper, Adil Soz reported.

“This is the latest chapter in Kazakhstan’s long-running persecution of Respublika, a news outlet that fills the important need for critical news coverage and commentary,” said Europe and Central Asia Research Associate Muzaffar Suleymanov. “Authorities in Kazakhstan should abide by their public commitment to press freedom by halting this campaign of intimidation against Respublika and other critical news organizations.”

Kazakh authorities targeted dozens of independent and critical news outlets shortly after the country was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council in November. The crackdown was linked to critical reporting on the December 2011 deadly clashes between protesting oil workers and police in the western town of Zhanaozen, CPJ research shows.

According to Respublika‘s website, prosecutors could not explain the legal connection between the December ruling against the newspaper and the journalists’ decision to start a fresh publication a month later; neither could they list any violation committed by the new paper. In an interview with local journalists today, Tamara Kaleyeva, head of Adil Soz, accused the prosecutors of targeting the journalists based on their profession. It is a violation of the law to arbitrarily add new media outlets to a previous verdict, she said.