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Kazakhstan31 March 2005

Court decisions could force two opposition newspapers to close

Court decisions that could force two opposition newspapers to close constitute fresh violations of news media diversity, Reporters Without Borders said today, condemning the deterioration in press freedom in Kazakhstan.

"We call on President Nursultan Nazarbayev to have this unacceptable harassment of the opposition press stopped immediately," the press freedom organization said, adding that "the judicial system should under no circumstances be used to silence dissent."

In the most recent decision, the Almaty regional court on 25 March ordered the liquidation of Bastau, the company that owns the opposition weekly Respublika, which will almost certainly entail the newspaper’s closure.

Before that, the opposition newspaper Soz was ordered to pay a fine of 40,000 euros for "insulting the KGB" in a brief published in September 2004. If this decision is confirmed on appeal by the Almaty economic court, Soz may also have to close.

Bastau’s liquidation was ordered in response to a complaint brought by the Kazakh culture ministry’s archive and information committee, which accused Respublika of "violating the Republic of Kazakhstan’s integrity" in a report and editorial published on 20 January.

The report contained the transcript of an interview with Vladimir Jirinovsky, the leader of a Russian nationalist party, the LDPR, in which he criticized Kazakhstan’s relations with neighbouring Russia. An accompanying editorial agreed with his criticism and his thoughts about future ties between Russia and Kazakhstan.

The court accepted the culture ministry’s claim that Respublika "participated in the promotion of an idea of one nation’s superiority over another, harmed the unity of the people of Kazakhstan and insulted the nation’s honour and dignity."

Respublika was already forced to stop publishing in similar circumstances in May 2002 when its previous owners, PR-Konsalting, were liquidated as a result of an earlier complaint by the culture ministry.

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