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The crackdown on opposition and media in the run-up to the December 2005 election that gave President Nursultan Nazarbayev a new seven-year term barely let up in 2006 and prosecutions for “defaming” him continued, along with closure of opposition papers and physical attacks on journalists. A young French journalist was also murdered in Almaty.
An opposition leader, Altynbek Sarsenbayev, and two aides were shot dead in February and the opposition media joined a protest movement calling for a through investigation. Editor Yergalieva Gulzhan, of Svoboda Slova, was given a 10-day prison sentence in March for saying President Nazarbayev and his daughter (member of parliament Darigha Nazarbayeva) were behind the murders.
Two months later, journalist Kazis Toguzbayev was prosecuted by the committee for national security for supposedly harming the president’s “dignity and reputation” (article 318 of the criminal code) in a 3 May article on website www.kub.kz headed “Mafia regime shadows the murder of Altynbek Sarsenbayev” and accusing the authorities of not investigating the murder energetically enough. His trial began on 23 November and he faces up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $7,600. He was banned from leaving Almaty.
The regime continued to target the opposition press. Kenzhegali Aitbakiev, a sub-editor of the weekly Ayna-Plus (whose liquidation had been ordered in early April after being sued for libelling Nazarbayev), was attacked and beaten up by a dozen men near his home on 23 April and lay unconscious in the street for three hours before being taken to hospital for an emergency operation for a fractured skull and jaw.
Ayna Plus had only started up in January as a new version of the opposition newspaper Dat, founded in 1998 and several times forced to change its name (SolDat, Juma Times, Ayna-Plus) to keep going in the face of several judicial liquidations, like other publications.
Nazarbayev decreed amendments to the press law on 5 July, setting up a fund to pay libel damages (to which all media had to belong), providing for a three-year ban on working as a journalist for those with a media-outlet ordered closed and a ban on newspapers reusing or partly changing the name of a paper shut down by the authorities. Registration with the information ministry was tightened and re-registration made compulsory whenever a media-outlet changed its editor, address or the number of copies it printed, on pain of heavy fines.
French journalist Grégoire de Bourgues, 24, was murdered at his apartment in Almaty on 2 August. He had been in the country for three months writing an advertising feature for the government. Police said he was the victim of a botched robbery by three men who broke into his apartment and killed him before getting away with about €5,000, his mobile phone and laptop computer. Police arrested two suspects in late August and said a third man was being sought.
Reporters Without Borders went to Kazakhstan in September to investigate, met government officials and investigators and managed to win access for the family’s lawyers to the case files and permission to participate in the trial. The family lodged a legal complaint in France on 8 September and Reporters Without Borders was granted interested party status by the investigating judge.