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Kazakhstan26 December 2005

Two opposition papers harshly punished for exposing electoral fraud

Reporters Without Borders today condemned police for searching the premises of the opposition weekly Pravo. Ekonomika. Politika. Kultura (formerly Respublika) after it printed a letter signed by the head of the country’s elections board saying the 4 December presidential election had been partly fraudulent.

Special police searched the offices on 15 December. The opposition weekly Juma-Times meanwhile faced judicial liquidation after a 20 December court decision in Almaty.

“We strongly deplore arbitrary action against opposition papers that have reported such cases of electoral fraud,” the press freedom body said. “The authorities are clearly trying to get rid of troublesome media outlets by using tough and hasty measures.”

Officials seized copies of the most recent issue of Juma-Times on 21 December after the Almaty economic court banned the issue. The paper is being prosecuted for “damaging the reputation and dignity” of President Nursultan Nazarbayev in two articles that were due to appear on 8 December, one referring to “Kazakhgate,” a corruption scandal involving a US oil adviser and the president, and the other accusing the government of rigging the elections.

The state prosecutor is suing Juma-Times for libelling Nazarbayev and the verdict is due on 5 January, until which time the paper cannot appear.

The offices of Pravo. Ekonomika. Politika. Kultura were searched after a complaint was filed by elections board chief Onalsyn Zhumabekov. All the paper’s computers were examined and data and hard-drives seized. The editor and the paper’s legal adviser were questioned for several hours.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported irregularities in the election the day after Nazarbayev was declared reelected with 91% of the vote. Its observers said ballot boxes had been stuffed and opposition supporters threatened.

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