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RFE Correspondent Acquitted In Kazakh Libel Case

Kazakhstan - Alima Abdirova, human rights activist and journalist. Aktobe, 31Aug2011.

A rights activist and RFE reporter in northwestern Kazakhstan has been acquitted of libel.

AQTOBE, KAZAKHSTAN -- A rights activist and RFE reporter in northwestern Kazakhstan has been acquitted of libel, RFE's Kazakh Service, Radio Azattyq, reports.

Alima Abdirova, who was denied a lawyer at her trial over the weekend, was sued over findings published by an NGO last May alleging child abuse at a boarding school in northwest city of Aqtobe. Abdirova is head of the group, Aru Ana, that conducted the investigation. The suit, filed by the school's former director, claimed the school was portrayed unfairly and cites Abdirova's NGO work, not her journalism.

Abdirova told RFE that Judge Maqsat Duisen dropped the libel charges against
her today, saying they "have not been proven in the court." A guilty verdict could have brought hefty fines and a sentence of up to three years in prison.

A freelance correspondent for RFE since 2009, Abdirova told RFE that she believes the libel case against her was retaliation by Kazakhstan's State Security Committee (KNB) for her news coverage of security issues in the Aqtobe region.

Abdirova was subjected to intimidation after reporting on a suicide bombing this spring and armed clashes between police and alleged religious extremists in July. Authorities attempted to restrict information about the suicide bombing, detaining a local cameraman and erasing photos taken by journalists and witnesses at the scene of the blast. A regional TV station aired a report on Islamic militancy and posted Abdirova's picture with the caption "accomplice" on the screen. Following the July incident, a local blogger labeled her and other RFE correspondents "the devil's advocates."