Kazakh journalist Amangeldy Batyrbekov recently survived an attack on his life, and authorities have arrested five suspects. (Photo: Amangeldy Batyrbekov)

Kazakh authorities detain 5 suspects in attack on journalist Amangeldy Batyrbekov

New York, January 25, 2022 – Kazakh authorities should continue their investigation into the attempted murder of journalist Amangeldy Batyrbekov and ensure that all those responsible are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

At about 11 p.m. on January 3, in the central city of Saryagash, an unidentified man tried to break into the office of the daily newspaper S-Inform, where Batyrbekov works as editor-in-chief, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, as well as news reports and the independent Kazakh free speech group Adil Soz.

When Batyrbekov’s son Dinmuhammad Batyrbekov, a lawyer at the newspaper, locked the office, the man fired a shotgun through the glass door, hitting Dinmuhammad in the shoulder and back, Batyrbekov said, adding that the attacker then fled the scene. 

The journalist said his son survived the attack, underwent surgery, and was hospitalized for 10 days.

On January 19, police detained five people, including two men who allegedly were hired to execute the killing, two coordinators of the attack, and the alleged mastermind, according to a January 21 police statement, media reports, and Batyrbekov.  

“Kazakh law enforcement should be applauded for quickly detaining the suspects involved in the attempted contract-killing of journalist Amangeldy Batyrbekov,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said. “Authorities should now ensure that all those involved in the attack are held to account, and that crimes against members of the press are taken seriously.”

Batyrbekov told CPJ that two men arrived at his home earlier in the evening of January 3 asking for his whereabouts, and that his daughter told them that he was at S-Inform’s office. He said he believed one of those men later shot Dinmuhammad, and the other was the getaway driver.

Police told Batyrbekov that the attacker “admitted that after the shooting he texted the man who hired him ‘Done’ because he thought he killed me,” the journalist said. “He didn’t know I was working together with my son, and he shot my son, not me.”

Among the arrested men was the alleged organizer, Saryagash education department chief Bauyrzhan Mairikhov, according to a report by the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

In November, Batyrbekov published a report in his newspaper, and posted on Facebook, about corruption allegations in a local kindergarten, which implicated Mairikhov in wrongdoing. Batyrbekov said he believed the attack was retaliation for that reporting, and added that, after he announced the investigation in November, he received several phone calls from unknown people asking him not to publish the report.

Authorities accuse Mairikhov of paying 5 million tenge (US$11,440) for the killing; 500,000 tenge (US$1,144) to each attacker and the rest to the two coordinators, according to RFE/RL, Batyrbekov, and the police statement. Those sources do not identify the other suspects by name.

CPJ called Mairikhov for comment, but his phone was turned off. CPJ also called the Turkistan regional police department, which oversees the police in Saryagash, but no one answered.  

In September 2019, Batyrbekov was sentenced to two years and three months in prison on charges of insult and libel for his reporting on corruption in the local department of education, as CPJ documented at the time. He was released after winning his appeal in January 2020.