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Kazakhstan: Four Journalists in Jail and Counting

Kazakhstan -- President of Journalists in Trouble NGO Rozlana Taukina in front of an Almaty courthouse, 11Jan2010
Rozlana Taukina, head of the Kazakh nongovernmental organization, Journalists in Trouble, is preparing for her trial. She could be fined or jailed for holding a flash rally in support of jailed journalists in Almaty on January 6. Radio Azattyq, RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, spoke to her about the rally, media freedom in her country and Kazakhstan’s commitments as chairman of the international human rights watchdog, the OSCE.

Azattyq: Ms Taukina, why did you organize the rally and why now?

Rozlana Taukina: On 6 January we held a flash rally to mark the first anniversary of the arrest of journalist Ramazan Esergepov, who became a victim for his professional activities. At the same time we remembered other journalists who are in jail now. There are three of them. They are Tokbergen Abiev, chief editor of Zakon i Pravosudie (Law and Justice) newspaper; Alpamys Bekturganov, who criticized the governor of West Kazakhstan Region and Tokhniyaz Kuchukov.

Therefore we went to Arbat [square] and launched blue and yellow balloons with the jailed journalists’ names on them. We have been fighting for their release and will continue to do so because it does not befit a country that has become OSCE chairman to suppress freedom of speech in this way. That is why we thought that it was very important to attract the attention of the public and our state bodies to the problem.

Azattyq: What hopes do you have for this year, the year that Kazakhstan implements its obligations as OSCE chairman?

Rozlana Taukina: As you know it is a very prestigious post. If a country becomes OSCE chairman, practically, it holds this position for three years. At the beginning it will be as future chairman, then as chairman and finally as former chairman.

During these three years the country not only holds this important post in the international organization, but it also advocates democratic reforms and proper means of state governing, and most importantly, supports the protection of human rights, including electoral and legislative ones as well as all of the fundamental human rights.

However, these principles were not observed when Kazakhstan was designated chairman of the OSCE. There is still huge pressure on freedom of speech in Kazakhstan, as evidenced by the sentencing of four journalists in 2009.

In addition, many other journalists have faced court proceedings and 140 officials sued journalists allegedly for slander and damaging their honor and dignity. As a result of this, Taszhargan newspaper became bankrupt and Respublika newspaper is on the verge of bankruptcy because it must pay a huge fine to BTA Bank in a libel case. In addition, our country’s printing houses, including private ones, refuse to provide their services to Respublika, Alga, and Azat newspapers.

Azattyq: At the dawn of Kazakhstan’s independence you directed the independent Totem TV and Radio Company and educated a lot of professional journalists. Could you tell us if you know of other instances in Kazakhstan’s history when four journalists were put behind bars?

Rozlana Taukina: Well, before it used to be that media outlets were shut down. But there were never cases when journalists were jailed for their professional activities and critical articles. And therefore, I think that it is an outrageous case that in 2009, when Kazakhstan became a future chairman of the OSCE, the country faced a situation where journalists were threatened. The four cases I mentioned earlier amount to intimidation of all journalists in Kazakhstan.

I can say that many journalists have problems. Some of them have been beaten and others have had telephone calls with threats, not only from authorities but also from criminals. Those criminals were either hired or they showed their own initiative in such ways.

In fact, the country’s law-enforcement bodies do not investigate such threats and attacks on journalists. The killers of Kyrgyz journalist Gennady Pavlyuk, who was murdered in Almaty a month ago, have not been found. As for cases of journalists who were attacked in the country, mainly in opposition journalists’ cases, there are doubtful defendants. I am talking about the cases of Artyom Miusov and Bakhytzhan Nurpeisov.

And therefore I think that it is easier for law-enforcement bodies to report on detected crimes, for example, if they detain journalists protesting at peaceful flash rallies and accuse them of violating administrative laws.

Taking into consideration the events that took place in Kazakhstan one year before its OSCE chairmanship, we have very pessimistic views because today Kazakhstan does not struggle to democratize the country; on the contrary, it tries to constrict information space. Kazakhstan does not want to see any journalists who oppose the authorities, they do not allow any information to be released outside the country if it harms Kazakhstan’s image during its OSCE chairmanship.

Nowadays such measures have been taken in Kazakhstan so that pluralism and alternative view points are being destroyed. Even the number of newspapers that oppose the authorities has been decreased. Before we used to talk about 10-15 newspapers, and now there are only three-four such newspapers left.

Azattyq: Ms Taukina, thank you.

By Gulmira Kamziyeva, RFE/RL Kazakh Service