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Kazakhstan19 June 2007

Independent daily sued for questioning whether national heroes really existed

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about a lawsuit brought by three descendants of “national heroes” against the opposition newspaper Svoboda Slova, demanding 6.5 million dollars in damages for an alleged “attack on the honour and dignity of their ancestors.”

The suit, filed on 21 May, was prompted by a column by the newspaper’s editor, Yerbol Kurmanbayev, questioning whether Karasay-Batyr, a famous 17th century warrior, and a poet known as Zhambul ever really existed.

“We are disturbed that this kind of lawsuit has been brought against Svoboda Slova,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This kind of use of article 318 § 2 of the criminal code, protecting the honour and dignity of ancestors, is improper and could end up bankrupting this opposition newspaper.”

The issue raised by the newspaper is a very sensitive one. President Nursultan Nazarbayev and those close to him claim to descend from these emblematic figures as part of an effort to shore up their legitimacy.

Kazakhstan’s leading opposition group, the Democratic Party (the result of a recent merger of the Social Democratic Party and the liberal Naghyz Ak-Jol) issued a statement on 15 June criticising the lawsuit as a dangerous precedent, especially as legislative elections will probably be called early and the pressure on independent news media is expected to increase.

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