New York, December 19, 2022—Kazakh authorities should release investigative journalist Mikhail Kozachkov immediately and ensure that members of the press are not prosecuted in retaliation for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On Sunday, December 18, officers from Kazakhstan’s Financial Monitoring Agency (FMA) in the southern city of Almaty arrested Kozachkov, who covers alleged corruption and abuses by government officials and prominent business figures for independent news website Vremya and his Telegram channel, according to news reports and a report by local free speech organization Adil Soz.
In a statement on its Telegram channel, FMA accused Kozachkov of helping a criminal group carry out illegal hostile takeovers of local businesses by publishing information discrediting the takeovers’ victims. The statement added that the journalist was under investigation for spreading state secrets.
CPJ was not able to obtain contact information for the journalist’s lawyer, but Adil Soz told CPJ that the journalist, via his lawyer, denied the accusations. A news report, citing a Facebook post that Adil Soz confirmed as authentic, said the journalist denied the accusations, calling them retaliation for articles he wrote about FMA and its head.
An open letter to Kazakhstan President Qasym-Zhomart Toqayev published by Adil Soz and signed by dozens of prominent Kazakh journalists, media outlets, and free speech organizations said there were numerous indications that Kozachkov’s arrest was a “political order, linked to his journalistic investigations.”
“The arrest of Mikhail Kozachkov, a well-known anticorruption journalist who frequently published allegations against state officials, law enforcement agencies, and wealthy businessmen, is concerning, especially given reports of procedural and rights violations against him by the investigating body,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Kazakh authorities should reveal the nature of the charges or release Kozachkov pending a transparent and impartial investigation of his case and ensure that his legal rights are fully upheld.”
In its statement, FMA accused Kozachkov and an acquaintance of the journalist of receiving 52 million tenge (US$111,200) from the criminal group to obtain and publish information discrediting several of its victims. FMA said the group was run by a man identified by Kazakh media as an assistant of the brother of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
FMA officers searched Kozachkov’s home following his arrest, those reports said, and the journalist’s lawyer told local news outlet Nege.kz that Kozachkov was placed in 48-hour detention, and that a court would decide on further custody measures.
Officers conducted the search without a lawyer present, detained the journalist for “several hours” without the chance to communicate with his lawyer, and did not allow the journalist to talk privately with his lawyer, Adil Soz reported.
In articles for Vremya and on his Telegram channel, Kozachkov offside, which has around 91,000 subscribers, Kozachkov regularly reported allegations of corruption against government and law enforcement agencies and had recently covered alleged abuses by FMA, according to a Vremya statement and a CPJ review of the journalist’s reporting. The FMA statement claimed Kozachkov published articles critical of FMA after learning that it was investigating Kozachkov’s associates.
In its statement, Vremya said it stood by Kozachkov’s reporting, saying he always verified information and that the outlet “scrupulously” checked his articles and consulted legal advisors before publication.
Kozachkov had recently received threats against him and his family, been subjected to online slander, and complained of surveillance, the open letter and Vremya statement said.
CPJ emailed FMA for comment but did not receive a reply. In response to the open letter, President Toqayev’s spokesperson, Ruslan Zheldibay, said Kozachkov’s legal rights must be “fully observed” and called on the prosecutor general’s office to ensure that any investigation into him was legal.