Authorities in Kazakhstan
must stop jailing and summoning for questioning journalists who covered the recent nationwide protests, and allow the press to work freely, the Committee to Protest Journalists said.
Since January 7, Kazakh authorities have sentenced at least three journalists to periods of detention ranging from 10 to 15 days, and summoned at least six journalists for questioning in connection with their coverage of nationwide protests that broke out on January 4, according to multiple news reports, a preliminary report on violations of journalists’ rights during and after the protests by independent local free speech organization Adil Soz, an unpublished document from the Kazakh Ministry of Information on incidents involving journalists shared with CPJ, and CPJ interviews with local journalists.
“It is unacceptable that Kazakh authorities should jail journalists for reporting and commenting on events of huge public importance, and outrageous that journalists should be questioned about links to so-called ‘extremist’ organizations simply for doing their jobs,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York.
“Investigations into the protests must not be used as a pretext to settle scores with critical journalists. Authorities should quash the convictions of journalists Daryn Nursapar, Nurzhan Baimuldin, and Lukpan Akhmedyarov, and cease summoning members of the press over their presence at the demonstrations.”
In addition to the January 7 sentencing of critical independent journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov to 10 days’ detention, as previously documented by CPJ, CPJ is aware of the following journalist convictions:
On January 7, law enforcement officers in the eastern city of Ust-Kamenogorsk arrested Daryn Nursapar, editor of state-owned local news website Altaynews.kz, and charged him with participating in an illegal demonstration, Adil Soz reported, and on January 9, a city court sentenced the journalist to 15 days’ detention. Management from the news site’s parent company had forbidden its journalists from attending the protests, but Nursapar felt it was his professional obligation to cover the protest, and posted videos in Ust-Kamenogorsk on his Facebook page on January 5, according to Adil Soz. On January 17, an East Kazakhstan regional court reduced the journalist’s sentence to seven days, at the prosecutor’s request, and freed him, according to a report by Adil Soz.
On the morning of January 12, Kokshetau police arrested Nurzhan Baimuldin, chief editor of independent news agency Kokshetau-Asia, for comments the journalist posted on Facebook suggesting that President Qasym-Zhomart Toqayev “reported to” Russian President Vladimir Putin, and charged him with inciting public order violations during a state of emergency, according to news reports and a post on Baimuldin’s Facebook page. That evening, a city court sentenced the journalist to 10 days’ detention, but on January 17, a Kokshetau city appeals court reduced the sentence to five days, at the prosecutor’s request, and freed him, according to an Adil Soz report, which also stated that the journalist plans to appeal the conviction.
Separately, Makhambet Abzhan, the author of Telegram channel Abzhan News who was reported missing by his family on January 6, announced today on the channel that he is alive, well, and has been in hiding for the last two weeks for reasons he “will explain later,” adding that he was questioned yesterday by police, according to reports. Authorities opened a criminal case against Abzhan, the journalist told CPJ via messaging app but said he was unable to provide more details as he signed a non-disclosure agreement with investigators.
Abzhan actively covered the initial stages of the protests on his Telegram channel and commented on events for Russian television, before announcing on the night of January 4 that plainclothes police had surrounded his apartment, switched off the electricity, and were preventing him from leaving, as CPJ previously reported. The Interior Ministry of Kazakhstan this week denied a criminal case had been initiated against the journalist, according to those same reports.
CPJ emailed the Interior Ministry and the office of the prosecutor-general of Kazakhstan for comment on the detentions and questioning of journalists, and requesting details about the charges against Abzhan, but did not immediately receive a reply.