Stockholm, June 16, 2021 – Kazakh authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate all threats made to employees of the independent newspaper Aq Zhayiq and ensure their safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Since the beginning of the year, unidentified individuals have sent dozens of death threats to Azamat Maitanov, the outlet’s editor-in-chief, and staff members of the newspaper, which is based in the Atyrau region of western Kazakhstan, according to a statement by the independent Kazakh free speech organization Adil Soz, Maitanov, who spoke to CPJ in a video interview, and screenshots of the threats, which CPJ reviewed.
Maitanov said that most of the threats have been made in the outlet’s website comments section, but have also been sent to Aq Zhayiq’s email address and to him personally via messaging app.
“The threats of violence made to Aq Zhayiq editor Azamat Maitanov, his family, and his colleagues are deeply concerning, and Kazakh authorities must conduct a full investigation immediately,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Kazakh law enforcement should take such threats extremely seriously, and provide Maitanov and his staff with the necessary support to ensure their safety.”
In one screenshot of a website comment, a user named “Satan” posted that it was “time to kill your journalists and burn your editorial office to the ground.”
In other threats reviewed by CPJ, website commenters threatened to “cut” Maitanov, to “hang” him, and to poison him and his colleagues with novichok, a nerve agent. Commenters also wrote that they knew Maitanov’s address and where his children go to school, he said, adding that he received a note at his home address in March with a picture of a skull and the message, “We found you, you son of a bitch!”
The Atyrau police have opened a criminal investigation into the death threat by “Satan,” Maitanov told CPJ.
He told CPJ that he previously called and wrote to local police multiple times about the threats, and gave them the “Satan” user’s IP address, but did not receive any responses. He alleged that police opened an investigation only after the publication of the Adil Soz statement received coverage in the media on June 12, and said he doubted the investigation would be taken seriously due to Aq Zhayiq’s previous criticism of law enforcement agencies.
Maitanov said the number of threats has steadily increased, saying he now sometimes receives two death threats a week and lives “under permanent stress” as a result.
The outlet has frequently covered subjects such as officials’ alleged corruption and abuse of office, and opposition protests, and regularly features reports on the Russian opposition and coverage of Russia drawn from Western outlets such as the BBC and Deutsche Welle.
Maitanov told CPJ that, given the range of topics that Aq Zhayiq covers, he did not know what grievance prompted the threats. He said that many of the comments showed strong Russian nationalist sentiments.
Authorities have blocked Aq Zhayiq’s website multiple times since 2019, and have also summoned Maitanov several times and asked him to stop publishing negative information about the authorities, he said.
CPJ emailed the Atyrau police for comment, but did not receive any reply.