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RFE/RL Reporters Subject To Frequent Threats And Intimidation In Kazakhstan

RFE/RL Kazakh Service reporter Saniya Toiken, receiving the 2017 Courage in Journalism Award, at the Newseum in Washington, DC.

PRAGUE -- In 2018, Kazakh authorities sought to harass and intimidate RFE/RL journalists working in the region, often in connection with their coverage of political protests and movements.

Members of Kazakhstan’s National Security Service (KNB) contacted members of RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service on several occasions in Astana and other cities asking to meet to discuss their work, and visited RFE/RL’s Almaty bureau seeking the names and contact information of the service’s editors

On two occasions this summer, authorities detained Sanat Urnaliyev, a reporter for the service in West Kazakhstan, who was investigating criminal charges against the independent newspaper “Uralskaya Nedelya” for instigating a protest in support of a banned political movement. The first time, the journalist was questioned for 40 minutes; several days later, he was detained before the start of a protest and released six hours later to prevent him from reporting on it. Urnaliyev and eight RFE/RL reporters in other cities were similarly detained by police in 2016 to prevent them from covering protests against proposed land reforms.

RFE/RL journalist Saniya Toiken, a recipient of the 2017 International Women’s Media Foundation’s Courage Award, was summoned to a police station in April as a “witness” in a case involving a banned political movement, and later made to sign a document stating that she understood police instructions regarding the court decision. In July, Toiken filed a complaint with the police and prosecutor’s office in her region claiming she was being harassed online in connection with the case. There has been no response to the complaint to date.

Karaganda regional reporter Elena Kulakova has also been subject to online harassment, accused in reports posted on several websites believed to be close to the KNB of “spreading shameful false information about Kazakhstan.” In July, an anonymous letter was left at her apartment that contained threats relating to her reporting about a banned religious group in the region. Kulakova filed a complaint about the incident with regional police and the prosecutor’s office, but has received no information about the investigation.