Stockholm, August 22, 2023 – Kazakh authorities should swiftly investigate the recent use of force against journalist Diana Saparkyzy, prosecute those involved, and ensure that members of the press can cover events of public importance without obstruction, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On Friday, August 18, Saparkyzy, a correspondent for independent news agency KazTAG, was attempting to report on an accident at the Kazakhstanskaya mine in the central Karaganda region when around five unidentified men forcibly ejected her from the mine’s grounds, dragging her by her arms, took her phone, and deleted video footage, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app.
Five miners died in a fire at the mine on August 17. The company that owns the mine, ArcelorMittal Temirtau – part of the global ArcelorMittal Group – describes itself as Kazakhstan’s largest steel and mining producer. The company has been noted for the high number of fatalities at its mines in the region and Saparkyzy told CPJ it has restricted access to its sites for journalists for several years. She believes the company forcibly removed her to suppress coverage of the disaster.
CPJ emailed ArcelorMittal Temirtau for comment but did not receive a reply.
“The violent ejection of journalist Diana Sapakyzy while reporting on a mining disaster seems a deliberate and brutal stifling of coverage that is clearly in the public interest,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “Kazakh authorities should investigate and prosecute those involved to send a message that violence against journalists will not be tolerated and that the press’s right to report on public disasters will be upheld.”
Saparkyzy told CPJ that she decided to report from the site of the Kazakhstanskaya mine after ArcelorMittal Temirtau published limited information about the fire in press releases and allowed journalists only to attend a pre-arranged press conference.
She said she entered the company’s office at the Kazakhstanskaya site without identifying herself as a journalist and recorded several interviews with deceased miners’ relatives. When staff from the company’s press service recognized her, they told security guards to “chuck her out.”
Rather than uniformed guards, who were also present, Saparkyzy said around five plainclothes men who did not identify themselves grabbed her tightly by the arms and dragged her out of the building. The men took her backpack and threw out her belongings and equipment, including glasses and a tripod, as they escorted her to the mine’s gates, she said.
When Saparkyzy began filming the men on her cell phone, one of them grabbed her by both arms from behind and another man took her phone, according to the journalist and footage of the incident from the phone shared with CPJ. The man deleted video Saparkyzy had recorded, but she was able to restore it after retrieving her phone, which the men dropped while she was struggling with them, she said.
The journalist suffered bruising on her arms and filed a complaint with police and underwent a forensic medical examination. As of August 22, police have not opened a criminal case over the incident, Saparkyzy said.
In a statement August 21, local press freedom group Adil Soz called for the perpetrators to be criminally prosecuted for obstructing journalistic activity, saying they had been encouraged to act so “brazenly” by Kazakhstan’s low rate of prosecution for the offense. Only two cases of criminal obstruction have reached the courts in the country’s 30 years of independence, the rights organization said.
CPJ’s calls, emails, and messages to Karaganda Region Police Department and email to Karaganda Region Prosecutor’s Office went unanswered.