The International Federation of Journalists today condemned a “growing pattern” of intimidation and harassment of the media in Kazakhstan and called for a revision of the draft media law.
On 30 January, Svetlana Rychkova, a journalist for the Assandi Times was dragged out of her car by policemen, detained, threatened and subsequently beaten. She was interrogated for several hours at a Talgarski police station in the town of Talgar, close to the former capital, Almaty. The newspaper has written about alleged government corruption and as a result has been under heavy pressure from the government.
Government motives came into question as the Senate yesterday sent back a draft media law, “Concerning Mass Media”, to the lower chamber of the Parliament. Although, Senator Battalova raised serious questions about “vague and legally flawed” provisions governing compulsory registration, licensing, accreditation and access to information contained in the draft law, her protests went unheard.
“This draft law carries all the hallmarks of a government-inspired attempt to control and intimidate the media,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is not surprising that a number of our colleagues in Kazakhstan have been harassed while the government fabricates a legal means to control the media in the run-in to national elections at the end of this year.”
The IFJ’s concern follows a number of cases in recent weeks against the media in Kazakhstan:
On 27 January, the offices of Arsenal, a publishing house, were raided by a team of police officers. The raid was formally justified by reference to charges of "malignant non-execution of a court decision" brought against Arsenal on 26 November 2003. Over the course of the past five years, several attacks against media outlets of Arsenal such as the publisher Rifma Ltd. and Diapason newspaper have been carried out. Both are well known for their criticism of the local administration and regional prosecutor's office.
On 9 January, Zhuldyz Toleuova, a journalist working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was beaten by unknown assailants in Astana. While Toleuova's colleagues believe the attack was connected to her journalism, police said the incident was a robbery.
The IFJ condemns these attacks particularly in the context of the current draft law that weakens legal protection of the media and expands the ability of government officials to influence and censor independent journalists. In a letter to President Nursultan Nazarbayev today, the IFJ warned the government that the consequences of their actions would be to ensure their isolation from the international community.
“We are extremely worried that the current proposals represent efforts to strengthen legal restrictions over the independent media ahead of parliamentary elections due later this year,” says the IFJ. The IFJ calls on the government to put an end to all harassment and targeting of journalists and to respect the rights of the media to criticize without fear of reprisal.
“State persecution of independent media in order to deny public access to information, whether it be by official or unofficial methods stands as a direct attack on the fundamental principles of a democracy,” said White. “The Kazak government must revise the draft law and allow journalists to work freely if it is to become a credible member of the international democratic community.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries