Kazakh editor Amangeldy Batyrbekov, who reported on alleged corruption, is serving a sentence of two years and three months in prison on charges of insult and libel.
On September 23, 2019, a district court in Saryagash sentenced Batyrbekov, chief editor of the Saryagash-based daily newspaper S-Inform, to two years and three months in jail on criminal charges of insult and libel, and ordered him to pay 2.1 million Kazakh tenge ($5,300) in damages, according to media reports and court documents, which CPJ reviewed.
The criminal charges against Batyrbekov stem from a complaint filed by a local education ministry official, Bakhtiyar Abdiyev, over allegedly insulting posts on Batyrbekov’s Facebook page, according to those reports. One of the alleged insults was made in a comments section by a user other than Batyrbekov, according to those reports.
Tamara Kaleeva, who heads the local press freedom organization Adil Soz, told CPJ via email that the charges were in retaliation for Batyrbekov’s many years of reporting on alleged corruption among local officials. The journalist’s lawyer, Shynar Yermekova, told CPJ via messaging app that she had filed an appeal on October 7, 2019. According to the journalist’s wife, Gulzada Baimuratova, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app, the appeal hearing was initially set for November 5, but was rescheduled for later in November due to the illness of Abdiyev’s attorney.
Batyrbekov, who is being held in a detention center in Saryagash, denied the charges in a letter from prison published in local media. He wrote that he was being prosecuted in retaliation for his critical reporting, including on the judge who presided over his case and the judge’s supervisor, who was the subject of critical reports in S-Inform and in the journalist’s Facebook posts about alleged corruption.
The journalist missed the first two hearings in the case because he had not been informed that the trial was ongoing, according to reports. At the third hearing, Batyrbekov asked that the judge recuse herself in light of his reporting on her, but the judge denied that request, Yermekova told CPJ.
In his letter, Batyrbekov wrote that many officials wanted to silence him because of his reporting on corruption, including stories that resulted in the dismissal of police and education ministry officials.
In his appeal hearing, which was held on November 22, Batyrbekov asked for the records of the first two hearings he missed as a proof that his rights were violated, but the judge denied the request, according to a post on Facebook by Kaleeva, who attended the hearing. At the next hearing, on November 25, 2019, the judge ordered a new expert study of the journalist’s writing to check whether the text contained libel and insult, because the court heard the testimony of the expert who provided a linguistic opinion and established that she did not specialize in the Kazakh language, according to the website of Adil Soz.
Kaleeva, who posted updates on her Facebook page, wrote that Batyrbekov appeared to be in a good health.
CPJ called and emailed the central and regional branches of the Ministry of Interior, but did not receive a response. CPJ also called Abdiyev, but he did not answer.