Saniya Toiken speaks onstage at the International Women's Media Foundation 2017 Courage In Journalism Awards on October 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Toiken was assaulted by Kazakh police while covering a protest. (Getty Images for International Women's Media Foundation/AFP)

Kazakh police assault, injure journalist Saniya Toiken covering protests in Nur-Sultan

New York, October 26, 2020 – Kazakh authorities should immediately and thoroughly investigate the assault on journalist Saniya Toiken, punish the perpetrators, and ensure that members of the press can work safely in Kazakhstan.

On October 24, Kazakh police officers assaulted Toiken, correspondent for Radio Azattyq, the Kazakh service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, while she was reporting on a peaceful rally in Nur-Sultan, the capital, according to the journalist, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app, and news reports.

“Kazakh authorities must immediately investigate the assault on journalist Saniya Toiken and should hold those responsible to account,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Toiken has been subject to many attacks for her work while doing an important job for the public. Law enforcement should be protecting her and other journalists, not attacking and harassing them.”

Toiken was covering a peaceful rally in support of political prisoners in Nur-Sultan where activists were also selling hand-made items to raise funds for prisoners’ families, according to news reports. Law enforcement officers arrived at the scene, announced that the rally was unsanctioned, and detained some participants, according to the reports. In a video interview with Current Time, a TV network affiliated with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Toiken said she was filming the event on her mobile phone when an officer pushed her to the ground, took her phone, and dragged her toward a police mini bus. She said that after she told the police officers she was a journalist, they released her. 

After the assault, Toiken went to a hospital in Nur-Sultan, where doctors documented multiple injuries and bruises on her legs and arms, according to the medical report, a photo of which was posted on Facebook by Nazira Darimbet, the acting director of the Federation of Equal Journalists of Kazakhstan. Toiken told CPJ she filed a complaint against the police officers who attacked her.  

In March 2019, police arrested Toiken after the journalist interviewed participants at a rally for better job opportunities in the southwestern city of Zhanaozen, as CPJ documented at the time. The journalist was held in detention overnight, found guilty of refusing to follow police orders, and fined 50,500 tenges (US$134). Toiken denied the charges, claiming that they were politically motivated and aimed at preventing her from reporting, CPJ documented.

CPJ emailed the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan for comment, but did not receive a response.