Law enforcement officers block a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on January 19, 2022. Journalists have recently been harassed and threatened throughout Kazakhstan. (Reuters/Pavel Mikheyev)

Journalists throughout Kazakhstan harassed, threatened for their work

Stockholm, January 24, 2023 – Kazakh authorities should thoroughly investigate a recent spate of attacks on independent journalists, hold all those responsible to account, and ensure that members of the press are able to work safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

Since January 12, journalists throughout Kazakhstan have seen their cars set on fire, apartments attacked, and offices vandalized, according to media reports and journalists who spoke to CPJ. Police have detained five suspects in relation to two of those incidents.

“While Kazakh police should be applauded for their swift work in apprehending suspects in two recent attacks on journalists, authorities must ensure that all the recent instances of harassment against the press are thoroughly investigated and that those who ordered them are held to account,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities’ rhetoric about a ‘new Kazakhstan’ will remain empty words unless they are able to ensure journalists’ safety.”

On January 12, attackers smashed the glass entrance to an office building that houses the independent outlet Elmedia in the southern city of Almaty, according to media reports and posts on Facebook by Elmedia editor-in-chief Gulzhan Yergalieva, which said that it was the sixth such attack on the outlet’s office since October.

Elmedia covers politics on its YouTube channel, where it has about 100,000 subscribers.

Since August, people have also filed false reports to police about bombs in Elmedia’s office and Yergalieva’s home and car, sent the journalist a funeral wreath, and placed her phone number and photo on websites advertising sexual services.

In messages sent to Elmedia’s Telegram account and posted by Yergalieva on Facebook, individuals who claimed to have carried out the attacks threatened “maybe the next brick will be to your forehead,” and told the outlet to “put a muzzle on” Yergalieva, “otherwise we will shut her up.”

Separately, on the night of January 13, a vehicle belonging to independent journalist Dinara Yegeubayeva was set on fire in Almaty, according to news reports and a post by the journalist on Instagram.

Yegeubayeva, who is also a political activist, said in an interview with independent journalist Vadim Boreiko that she believes the attack was related to her journalistic posts on Instagram and YouTube, where she has a combined 94,000 subscribers and has covered allegations of rights abuses by authorities during 2022 mass protests in Kazakhstan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Police have arrested five suspects aged between 15 and 17 who confessed to carrying out the arson attack on Yegeubayeva’s car and the most recent attacks on Elmedia, saying they were paid to commit them by unidentified individuals who contacted them on the internet, news reports said.

Separately, on January 16, unidentified individuals injected construction foam around the apartment door of Gulnara Bazhkenova, chief editor of the independent news website Orda, in Almaty, for the third time since September, the journalist told CPJ by phone and wrote on Facebook. Bazhkenova said unidentified people also mailed her a tombstone featuring her image and the date “2023” in December, and that her outlet’s website has faced consistent distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks since July 2022.

Also, on January 18, hackers infiltrated the website of the independent news website Ulysmedia, based in the capital city of Astana, and placed the personal data of chief editor Samal Ibrayeva and her children online, according to news reports and a statement by the journalist posted on Telegram.

Following the doxxing, unidentified users flooded Ulysmedia’s social media accounts with an identical message, saying: “This is just the start of your new life full of pain and sorrow. We know about everything that you hold dear.”

Ibrayeva told CPJ by messaging app that Ulysmedia’s website and social media accounts have repeatedly been targeted by DDoS and spam attacks since July 2022.

Separately, in the early hours of January 19, unidentified attackers injected construction foam around the door of journalist Vadim Boreiko’s apartment in Almaty and wrote graffiti featuring a lewd image and the name of Boreiko’s YouTube channel, according to news reports and a Facebook post by the journalist.

On his YouTube channel Giperborei, which has about 250,000 subscribers, Boreiko has covered topics including the war in Ukraine and the 2022 protests, which he told CPJ by messaging app were “the most undesirable topics for Kazakh authorities.”

Ibrayeva and Boreyko told CPJ that they had not received any information about the suspects in their cases.

Bazhkenova told CPJ police arrested two young people in November who admitted to some of the previous harassment of Orda and Elmedia, and who told police they had also been paid by unidentified individuals who contacted them online.

On January 20, a spokesperson for Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev wrote on Facebook that the president had ordered a “thorough investigation” into the attacks on journalists, saying that “not only the perpetrators, but also those who ordered these illegal acts” must be identified.

CPJ emailed the Kazakhstan Ministries of Internal Affairs and Information for comment, but did not receive any replies.