Two months after Yesergepov published explosive internal memos from the KNB, the Kazakh security service, authorities arrested the editor at an Almaty hospital, where he was undergoing treatment for a heart condition, according to CPJ interviews and news accounts. Yesergepov was transported to a detention facility in the southern city of Taraz.
The KNB memos, published in Yesergepov’s newspaper, Alma-Ata Info, showed high-ranking agents conspiring to influence a prosecutor and a judge in a tax-evasion case. Yesergepov also wrote a commentary on the contents of the memos. The KNB retroactively declared the memos classified and charged Yesergepov with “collecting state secrets.” Authorities tried him behind closed doors, denied him a lawyer of his choosing, and barred access to his own case file.
In August 2009, a Taraz City Court judge sentenced Yesergepov to three years in prison. Raushan Yesergepova, the journalist’s wife, told CPJ that the state-appointed defense lawyer did not attend Yesergepov’s final hearing. Subsequent appeals—which Yesergepov prepared himself—were denied, as were appeals for early release and transfer to a lower-security facility.
During a June 2010 fact-finding mission to Almaty, CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova tried to visit Yesergepov in prison. Kazakh authorities initially approved the visit, but officials with the local penitentiary service revoked the approval on the day Ognianova traveled to the prison colony in Taraz.
A CPJ delegation advocated on behalf of Yesergepov in an October 2010 meeting with Kazakh Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov, chairman of the permanent council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. In the meeting, at OSCE headquarters in Vienna, Ognianova and CPJ Senior Adviser Jean-Paul Marthoz detailed violations of Yesergepov’s rights to a fair trial.
In January 2011, authorities denied Yesergepov’s appeal for early release, saying he “did not show signs of improved behavior,” news reports said. The reports quoted authorities as saying Yesergepov violated prison rules by turning on the lights in his cell when he needed to take medication at night.