The politicized prosecution of dozens of independent news outlets in Kazakhstan is at odds with the country’s commitment to press freedom and deeply stains its recent election to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ calls on Kazakh authorities to dismiss the case and allow the outlets to operate freely.
“Kazakhstan’s efforts to silence independent and pro-opposition news media are incompatible with its membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council and its aspirations to be a regional leader in democracy,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Authorities have a long record of using politicized prosecutions, bureaucratic harassment, and imprisonment to silence critical journalists. They need to turn the page on such short-sighted behavior, and immediately end this deeply misguided prosecution.”
Prosecutors in the city of Almaty filed a complaint against at least 36 independent newspapers and news websites on November 20, charging them with “inciting social discord” and “spreading extremism” and anti-state propaganda during labor clashes in the southwest in 2011, according to the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz. Prosecutors asked the court to ban the publication of the papers and their affiliated websites. The defendants include the independent newspaper Respublika, along with Golos Respubliki and eight other sister newspapers and 23 of its news websites; the newspaper Vzglyad; and satellite and Web-based broadcasters Stan TV and K-Plus.
After filing the complaint, authorities raided and searched the offices of Vzglyad and Golos Respubliki and ordered journalists to stop publishing in their print editions and on the affiliated news websites, Adil Soz said.
The court set a hearing date of December 6, Adil Soz reported. It is unclear if the news outlets will be tried together.
Authorities filed the case after winning a conviction and prison sentence in October of Vladimir Kozlov, an opposition politician who was accused of inciting deadly December 2011 clashes between police and protesting oil workers in the town of Zhanaozen, according to news reports. A statement issued by the General Prosecutor’s office blamed the outlets for the unrest, saying they spread “propaganda for violent seizure of power and undermining of state security.”
The news outlets disputed the accusations and released a joint statement on Monday saying that authorities had fabricated the charges. The statement said that they believed their prosecution would be rapid and that the verdict would be issued by the government. “We were accused of doing our work in exposing the government’s defects: press freedom violations, killing of innocent civilians, political repressions, and providing space to independent experts and political analysts,” the statement said. The outlets also called on the international community to advocate on their behalf.
The news outlets are known for their critical reporting on Kazakh authorities and have faced retaliatory prosecution and official intimidation and harassment in the past, according to CPJ research. Following the events in Zhanaozen, the Kazakh security service, KNB, raided the outlets’ newsrooms, confiscated equipment, and interrogated journalists in connection with their coverage of the clashes. The KNB also imprisoned Igor Vinyavsky, editor of Vzglyad, and held him for more than 50 days before releasing him.
Kazakhstan was elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this month, and has “pledged to use its membership to strengthen human rights both at home and abroad,” the Kazakh Embassy to the United States said at the time.
For more data and analysis on Kazakhstan, visit CPJ’s Kazakhstan page here.