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Kazakhstan28 April 2006

Opposition journalist beaten unconscious on street near his home

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Reporters Without Borders today condemned the severe beating that journalist Kenzhegali Aytbakiyev of the opposition weekly Ayna-Plus received on 23 April from a group of about 10 people on the street a few metres from his home in a suburb of capital.

He told Reporters Without Borders that he lost consciousness for about three hours after being pushed to the ground and repeatedly kicked. After coming round, he managed to stagger home. He has a fractured skull and jaw and will have to undergo an operation. His assailants took no money or other item of value from him.

“The attack on Aytbakiyev was extremely brutal and speaks volumes about the way opposition journalists are treated in Kazakhstan,” the press freedom organisation said. “The authorities must find his assailants and give him protection. The independent press was gagged all last year to ensure President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s reelection with 90 per cent of the votes in December.”

(JPEG) Aytbakiyev was taken to hospital the day after the attack. He was questioned there by the municipal police, who took a statement and opened an investigation. He can still barely speak after four days in intensive care and the doctors say his condition is serious.

Aytbakiyev has worked for nearly eight years as a journalist. Ayna-Plus weekly was closed by the authorities this month because of its coverage of the so-called Kazakhgate corruption scandal, in which the opposition claims that President Nazarbayev is implicated.

As a result of a suit accusing the newspaper of libelling Nazarbayev in its reports about electoral fraud recognised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a court ordered its compulsory liquidation, ending months of disputes with the authorities.

Ayna-Plus was originally launched by opposition members in 1998 as the Dat project (taking its name from the Kazakh for “the last word before death”). It evolved into a newspaper which had to change its name three names because of a series of compulsory liquidations. It became SolDat, then Juma-Times and finally Ayna-Plus, which lasted only two months.

Aytbakiyev has been attacked on the streets twice before. The first time was in 2002, when he was with a colleague, Bakhytgul Makimbay, who was also attacked. The second time was last month, when he was attacked by a group of youths for no apparent reason.

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