A Kazakh court has ordered the closing of the news site Ratel.kz in a case criticized by media watchdogs as part of a campaign of official harassment against independent outlets.
Almaty's Medeu district court on May 28 ordered a one-year ban on Ratel.kz and decreed that the site's registration be canceled. Judge Gulmira Beysenova also prohibited the use of the domain name Ratel.kz and Balborsyk.kz -- an alternative site on which Ratel.kz published its content.
Ratel's editor in chief, Marat Asipov, and other employees at the site were also banned from publishing content in other media under the name Ratel.kz.
Asipov said he would appeal the court decision.
In a motion filed in late March, prosecutors accused the media outlet of violating reregistration rules by using the Ratel.kz domain after the death of its owner, Gennady Benditsky, and transferring Ratel.kz's rights to Balborsyk.kz.
They also said Ratel.kz illegally based its servers outside of Kazakhstan and published content in Russian, Kazakh, and English, although its registration only indicates Russian as a language of publication.
The Medeu district court later ruled to suspend the publication of Ratel.kz.
Separately, journalists at Ratel.kz and Balborsyk.kz are being prosecuted on charges of "disseminating knowingly false information" following a claim filed by businessman and former Finance Minister Zeinulla Kakimzhanov.
Kakimzhanov claimed that the outlets published false information that damaged his reputation and that of his son.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Ratel.kz has reported on alleged corrupt business practices by the Kakimzhanovs between May and December 2016.
Earlier this month, CPJ and 25 other international press-freedom organizations expressed concern that "the growing pattern of disproportionate and, in some cases, illegal actions taken by the prosecutor's office and the judiciary against Ratel.kz and a number of other media suggests misuse of Kazakhstan's legal system to silence normal criticism crucial to the functioning of a well-ordered democracy."
In April, Human Rights Watch issued a statement on the cases against Ratel.kz and another popular independent media outlet, Forbes.kz, urging Kazakh authorities to stop using libel laws "to harass journalists who are doing their jobs."