Police arrested Gabdullin, chief editor and founder of Central Asia Monitor and director and founder of Radiotochka, for extortion on November 15, 2016. Gabdullin had been summoned to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau in Astana and detained without an arrest warrant for a “preliminary investigation,” Radiotochka reported, citing a press release from the anti-corruption bureau.
According to the press release, Gabdullin allegedly used the independent websites Central Asia Monitor and Radiotochka to “conduct information attacks on heads of government agencies.” The bureau accused Gabdullin, who is also president of the Kazakh PEN Club, of extorting monetary rewards from unnamed government officials in return for positive articles.
At a preliminary hearing on November 16, a judge ordered Gabdullin to be detained for two months while the case against him is investigated, Central Asia Monitor reported. A judge on November 28 denied a request by Gabdullin’s lawyer that he be detained under house arrest instead of jail, Radiotochka reported.
On November 17, police searched the Almaty premises of Central Asia Monitor and Radiotochka. Afterwards, staff from Central Asia Monitor released a statement saying they were shocked by the arrest but determined to continue. They described the accusations against Gabdullin as “ridiculous” and “total nonsense” and praised their chief editor as “the smartest media manager in the country” who had been “under pressure” from the authorities.
A statement from PEN International said Gabdullin was arrested after publishing reports critical of government officials’ business dealings.
Radiotochkapublished a series of reports in 2016 under the theme “Who owns Kazakhstan.” The reports included information about businesses and property owned by the presidential family, members of parliament, regional governors, and city mayors. It also reported on business activities and property owned by opposition members, celebrities, athletes, and oligarchs. Many of the reports were based on public tax records or information released in the Panama Papers leak.
Tamara Kaleyeva, director of the local press freedom group Adil Soz, told CPJ that Gabdullin is a “brave journalist and a chief editor who was not afraid to raise serious issues and criticize our political clans.” She said, “The authorities couldn’t manage him because he is a very independent person.”
Gabdullin, the author of Serious Conversation, and the award-winning The Great Nomads, is being held in a detention center in Astana. Kaleyeva told CPJ the arrest had affected the journalist’s health, but did not provide further details.