The obstruction of free-flowing news is still frequent in Kazakhstan, i.e. control by the authorities of the means of printing and publication, censorship and legal pressure and intimidation. Journalists are frequently attacked by gangs whose ties with influential circles are hard to prove, although the presumption is very strong.
On-going privatisation of the best part of the Kazakh media has profited those close to President Nazarbayev or groups belonging to his camp. Repeated warnings by the President to the media who "are against the system and blacken the country in the world’s eyes" and the interests owned in the media sector by the President’s son-in-law, Rakhat Aliev, more often than not oblige the media to self-imposed censorship. The violation of press laws are considered to be penal infringements and are punishable by prison sentences. In the absence of an impartial justice system, appealing legal judgements is nearly impossible.
On 30 January 2001 the television stations in the cities of Shymkent, Aktyubinks, Temirtau, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Ekibastuz and Karaganda interrupted their programmes during the day in protest of the government’s intention to amend the media law. Instead of programmes, the stations broadcast an appeal asking viewers to support the rights of everyone to be informed. The media law was finally amended in April to limit the presence of the foreign media as they are seen to hinder the development of local media.
A journalist arrested
On 16 November 2001 Daniar Rahmanovich Ashimbaev, a well known journalist and editor of Kto est’kto v Kazakhstan (Who’s Who in Kazakhstan) was arrested in Almaty for drugs possession. Several of his colleagues have denounced it as a frame-up.
Two journalists attacked
In March 2001 the husband and son of Golzhan Ergalieva, a television journalist, were hospitalised after being violently beaten by a gang of masked assailants. A member of parliament, Fariza Ongarsynova, asked the president of the National Security Committee, Alnur Musayev, to open an investigation into this affair and to ensure that journalists be better protected. By the close of 2001, no specific measures had yet been taken in this regard.
In July Dana Rysmuhamedova, a well known television journalist for Channel 31, was violently attacked when returning home. The attack was linked, according to the journalist, to a series of allusions he had made about the relationships between President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s entourage and the Mafia.
Two journalists threatened
Late in January 2001 threats were received by telephone against the newspaper, Respublica-2000, which on 18 January had published an article by Alexsandr Kravchuk about a corruption scandal in political circles. The anonymous calls were made three days after the article appeared. On 24 January threatening phone calls arrived at intervals of every ten to fifteen minutes. And journalists noticed an unusual amount of surveillance on the paper’s building. In a letter sent to the Minister of the Interior, editor-in-chief Lira Bayseitova denounced these threats. She had been physically attacked herself in September 2000.
In March journalist Rozlana Taukina received a phone call from the mayor of the city of Almaty, Akim Hrapunov, who directly threatened her if she continued asking for explanations about the dizzying rises in taxes (water, electricity and other).
Pressure and obstruction
On 24 January 2001 Bigeldy Gabdullin, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, XXI VEK (21st Century), was found guilty by the Almaty district court in the case opposing him to the Sakharny Tsentr Company, a sugar-producing giant belonging to one of the Kazakh’s President’s sons-in-law. The newspaper was found guilty of having published false information that was prejudicial to the company’s prestige. With the last date for appeal being set for the next day, 25 January, B. Gabdullin accused the court of having delivered the verdict so late in order to prevent him from lodging an appeal. Close to the opposition party, the newspaper often encounters difficulties in printing and distributing its issues.
On 25 January Ermurat Bapi, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Soldat, close to the opposition party of exiled former Prime Minister, Kajegueldine, was kept from participating in a round table organised in Astana by the OSCE on the theme "The elections in Kazakhstan and the electoral law". The Almaty authorities had ruled that he couldn’t leave the city before the end of the trial against his paper. The paper stood accused of having published an article by a dissident, Karishal Assanov, tarnishing the dignity of President Nazarbayev. Ermurat had been forced to close the paper in 2000 when the printers refused to print it. On 3 April Karishal Assanov, author of the article considered slanderous for the President, was acquitted for the reason that the article had originally been written for an Internet site, but Ermurat Bapi was found guilty of having republished the article in his newspaper and sentenced to one year in prison and fined for the legal costs. Two weeks after the end of the trial, he was pardoned by President Nazarbayev. Soldat’s offices, however, were attacked by unidentified assailants who destroyed all the computer equipment. The assailants threatened reprisals against the personnel if another issue of the paper were released. On 18 July Ermurat Bapi was arrested at the airport by officers of the National Security Committee as he was trying to board a flight to the United States where he was supposed to speak at a gathering about press freedom in central Asia.
On 19 October the Almaty district court suspended the publication of the newspaper Vermia Po without giving any reason for its decision. At a press conference the newspaper’s editor-in-chief accused President Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, Rakhat Aliev, of attempted intimidation. Following the publication in the paper of articles relating the recent setbacks of the President’s son-in-law and the accusations of abuse of power made against him by a deputy in parliament, Rakhat Aliev’s lawyers announced that they would sue the newspaper for having openly "insulted the dignity" of their client and request that the newspaper be shut down.
On 16 November armed troops from the Ministry of the Interior invaded the building of the popular independent Kazakh television station, KTK, based in Almaty. The station showed footage of soldiers armed with automatic weapons taking up positions in their offices. The forces for law and order were said to be acting on orders of the Security Committee, saying that in the framework of the Afghani conflict "all strategic installations of the Republic of Kazakhstan must be monitored by troops from the Ministry of the Interior". An official of the station revealed that pressure, wire-tapping and mail surveillance were constant.