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International Organizations Question Kazakhstan’s Commitment to Free Press

Authorities’ crackdown on two news sites that reported on prominent former politician raises concerns about media’s ability to investigate country’s bigwigs.

21 May 2018

A group of 26 media watchdog organizations, including PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, and the International Press Institute (IPI), sent an open letter on 18 May to several high-ranking Kazakh officials expressing concern about the curtailment of media freedom.

 

"We are concerned 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," the letter, which was addressed to the Kazakh general prosecutor, the chairman of the parliament, and others, read.

 

The letter refers to a criminal investigation of two prominent independent media outlets opened at the end of March for allegedly “disseminating knowingly false information,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote at the time.

 

Forbes Kazakhstan and Kazakh analytical news portal Ratel.kz found themselves in the crosshairs of local authorities after businessman and former Minister of Finance Zeinulla Kakimzhanov (pictured) claimed that they published false information that damaged his reputation.  

 

Kakimzhanov has had a history of doing battle with the two publications, as Eurasianet notes. He and his son sued them in January 2017, and, after closed hearings, the court verdict ordered them to pay around $160,000 in damages, as well as to remove the offensive articles and to issue a retraction.

 

In a Facebook post explaining his decision to sue the media websites again, cited by HRW, Kakimzhanov wrote: “Despite court rulings, select media outlets and their authors do not comply with the court rulings and continue to publish similar articles.”

 

It remains unclear from media reports whether Kakimzhanov is again disputing allegations of financial misdoing that were the subject of the 2017 case.

     

     

  • A few days before the New Year, Kazakhstan’s long-serving president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, approved a package of amendments to the national media law that critics said at the time would worsen the already “draconian” media landscape.
  •  

  • Among the changes, the law now requires websites to identify users posting comments after articles, and to retain that information for three months, according to AFP.

 

  • The law also obliges journalists to receive permission from individuals mentioned in articles before publishing information that “could be classified as family, personal, medical, banking, commercial, and other legally protected secrets.”

 

  • The organizations that sent the protest letter belong to the IFEX global network dedicated to defending and promoting free expression.

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu

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