Journalist and press freedom defender stabbed in Kazakhstan

New York, May 15, 2017–Kazakh authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate yesterday’s stabbing of journalist and press freedom defender Ramazan Yesergepov and should bring all those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Yesergepov, who spent three years in prison for his work as an editor and who now runs the press freedom group Journalists in Trouble, was stabbed on an overnight train bound for the capital Astana.

Yesergepov had scarcely begun the journey of roughly 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) north from Almaty to Astana to discuss threats to media freedom with foreign diplomats when he was stabbed in the abdomen, local and international media reported. He was taken to a hospital in Shu, the nearest city, where doctors performed an emergency surgery and listed him in stable condition, media reported.

“We call for a thorough investigation into the stabbing of Ramazan Yesergepov, including whether the attack was meant to obstruct his work as a defender of press freedom,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Yesergepov has suffered retaliation for his journalism before. Kazakhstan should show it is a country built on rule of law, a country where citizens, including journalists and their defenders, cannot be harmed with impunity.”

Speaking to the Kazakh-language service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty after the surgery, Yesergepov said he believed the attack was “directly related” to his work. Two men, one with a knife and one with what appeared to be a gun, approached him on the train and asked his name before the man with a knife stabbed him, he told RFE/RL. He told the broadcaster he had been scheduled to meet with officials from the Lithuanian and German embassies in Astana to discuss his past imprisonment and the case of Zhanbolat Mamay, the editor of the independent newspaper Sayasi kalam/Tribuna, who has been jailed since February on suspicion of illegally receiving money from an exiled opposition leader.

The Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz reported today that the local police launched an investigation into the attack.

A court in 2009 jailed Yesergepov, then the editor of the now-defunct independent weekly Alma-Ata Info, for three years on charges of “collecting information that contains state secrets” in reprisal for his publishing internal memos of the KNB, Kazakhstan’s national security service, CPJ reported at the time.

CPJ advocated for his release and in 2010 unsuccessfully attempted to visit the journalist in prison. Yesergepov was released in 2012 after serving his full sentence. He has since petitioned for financial damages and for his criminal record to be expunged, in accordance with the March 2016 recommendations of the U.N. Human Rights Committee, according to media reports.