Court climbdown interrupts latest government offensive against media

first_img Regional newspaper editor harassed after investigating real estate scandal January 15, 2021 Find out more Kazakh reporter accuses police of attacking her News KazakhstanEurope – Central Asia Follow the news on Kazakhstan Receive email alerts Help by sharing this information RSF_en October 30, 2020 Find out more Reporters Without Borders hails yesterday’s climbdown by a court in the Almaty district of Medeu as a victory for independent news media and press freedom organisations over a government bid to impose de facto censorship throughout the country. The court rescinded the order it issued a week earlier banning all of the Kazakh media from publishing any information that could damage the reputation of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, businessman Timur Kulibayev (photo : ITAR-TASS). “A campaign of intimidation has ended,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But it has caused a great deal of damage both in financial terms, because of the all the newspapers that were seized, and in terms of the fear that has been cast over all the media. The financial losses must be compensated and a closer watch must be kept on the manoeuvring by this autocratic president, who is bound to go back on the offensive, only this time more selectively.”The Medeu district court issued the ban on 1 February in response to the legal action which Kulibayev brought against four independent newspapers, Respublika, Moya Respublika, Vzglyad and Kursiv, after they published an open letter by exiled politician Muhtar Ablyazov accusing him of corruption.In its 1 February ruling, the court also ordered the immediate confiscation of their latest issues, although Reporters Without Borders believes that the four newspapers “just did their duty by mentioning – without endorsing – the serious charges that had been made against a high-profile public figure.”Ablyazov’s open letter accused Kulibayev of embezzling part of the proceeds from the sale of a Kazakh state-owned company to the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation. The court did not examine Ablyazov’s claims and the prosecutor-general’s office continues to maintain that it has not received documents sent by Ablyazov.The authorities used the 1 February order as a pretext for launching a broad campaign of repression and intimidation against not only the four newspapers but also printers, distributors and other print media. Although virtually all newspapers referred to Ablyazov’s allegations, only independent and opposition newspapers were systematically targeted.A major arsenal of state resources was rapidly mobilised for an offensive that was waged not only in Almaty and Astana (the two largest cities) but also in Shymkent, in the Aktobe, Karaganda and Ust-Kamenogorsk regions, and elsewhere. A newspaper had only to mention the allegations against Kulibayev for all of its copies to be seized from printers or newsstands.At least 21 news media (and a newsstand) in the Aktobe region received a formal notification from a local court on 5 February reproducing the Medeu court ruling and warning of the potential consequences of publishing anything about the case. Five judges and a detachment of police were deployed to take this warning to the headquarters of Diapazon, a newspaper critical of the government that has been targeted by other legal actions.After the business newspaper Kursiv received its copy of the 1 February ruling, its editor was suddenly fired on 5 February. The staff refused to comment, but local observers pointed out Kursiv received particular attention from the authorities because it was distributed by all the Kazakh airlines. It also distanced itself from the protest movement about the court order.Elena Burmistrova, the head of Vremya-Print, a printing house that publishes the newspaper Svoboda Slova (“Freedom of Expression”), was summoned before an Almaty administrative court on 8 February to account for the front page of its latest issue, which showed a large photo of Kulibayev under headline: “Kazakhstan’s second president?” All copies of the issue were seized.In the end no charges were brought against Burmistrova but local journalists said the summons put a lot of pressure on other publishing houses and newspapers. “They are all in complete disarray,” Rozlana Taukina, the head of the NGO Journalists in Danger, told Reporters Without Borders. “In practice, censorship now reigns.”The ban issued by the Medeu district court on 1 February triggered a wave of protest within the country and abroad. It was condemned as flagrant censorship by press freedom organisations, the opposition parties Alga and Azat and even the semi-official Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s media freedom representative, Miklos Haraszti, compared the situation to the recent libel actions against five major newspapers in neighbouring Tajikistan and condemned the practice of “shooting the bearer of bad news.”In response to a call from eight newspapers and the NGOs Adil-Soz and Journalists in Danger, around 100 people waving placards saying “No to censorship” gathered outside the Medeu district court yesterday before it issued its second ruling. The request for the withdrawal of the original ruling was by submitted by Respublika and Vzglyad, and was subsequently supported by six other newspapers.“We are astonished by the order’s withdrawal,” Taukina said as she left the courthouse yesterday. “But this case had taken on a great deal of importance and was beginning to embarrass the authorities. The media were united and determined. The staff of the newspapers planned to go on hunger strike and to take their protest to the OSCE in Vienna. A case of such direct censorship in a country that holds the OSCE presidency was too provocative.”After cracking down hard on independent media in recent months, it seems the authorities are now taking a more subtle tack. They are blowing hot and hold, maintaining tension to intimidate newspapers but now acting with more discretion. Unrelated prosecutions are continuing against Respublika, the cable TV station K+ and Diapazon, in what seems to be an attempt to pick off media one by one rather all at once.center_img News News Reporters prevented from covering Kazakh parliamentary elections to go further February 5, 2021 Find out more News KazakhstanEurope – Central Asia February 10, 2010 – Updated on January 20, 2016 Court climbdown interrupts latest government offensive against media Organisation last_img


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