New York, December 24, 2015--Kazakh authorities should immediately release Guzyal Baydalinova, editor of the independent news website Nakanune, and return all reporting equipment seized in police raids, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Investigators in Almaty detained Baydalinova on December 23, bringing her to a local pretrial detention center on charges of deliberately publishing false information about the Almaty-based bank Kazkommertsbank and several individuals, the news website Tengri News reported Wednesday, citing police. The charge carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison under Kazakhstan's criminal code.
"Kazakhstan should immediately release Guzyal Baydalinova, and stop harassing journalists for their work," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "Instead of arresting members of the press, authorities should set about changing the laws that allow for criminal prosecution of journalists, are open to abuse, and have a chilling effect on the flow of information."
On December 18, Almaty police searched Baydalinova's apartment, her colleague Yulia Kozlova's apartment, and Nakanune's newsroom, the independent regional news website Fergana News reported. During the raids, authorities confiscated journalists' reporting equipment as well as finance records from the newsroom, which they sealed after the raid, reports said. After the raids, police summoned Baydalinova and Kozlova to the Almaty Police Directorate for questioning, initially releasing both on the same day.
The criminal proceedings against Baydalinova follow an Almaty court's June 2015 verdict ordering her to pay 20 million tenge ($60,689) in damages after Kazkommertsbank filed a lawsuit claiming that an article published by Nakanune undermined its reputation. Baydalinova has appealed the verdict, according to press reports.
In a letter published by the news website Spektr on December 19, the bank's head of public relations confirmed the bank had asked authorities to bring to justice those responsible for allegedly damaging the bank's reputation. Neither the bank's letter nor the police statement quoted in the press on December 23 specified whether the new charges stemmed from new articles.
Nakanune was founded by Baydalinova and other journalists from the independent news websites Respublika and the Assandi Times after authorities banned the sites in 2012 and 2014, respectively, according to news reports. Respublika continues to operate from Russia.