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Kazakhstan2 August 2007

Questions still unanswered in French journalist’s murder one year ago

On the first anniversary of French journalist Grégoire de Bourgues’ murder in Kazakhstan, Reporters Without Borders today said it was obviously pleased that two people have been convicted of killing him but it condemned the Kazakh judicial system’s failure to shed full light on the case.

“Many questions are still unresolved one year after this young French journalist’s death and the authorities seem to have tried to protect the country’s image abroad rather than render justice to the victim’s family,” the press freedom organisation said. “We hope that the roles of all those who have been implicated in this murder will be established during the appeal hearing and we urge the authorities to keep looking for the third suspect, who is still on the run.”

A court in Almaty convicted Almaz Oralbayev and Salavat Bolgonbayev on 30 April of murdering De Bourgues in his Almaty apartment on 2 August 2006. Oralbayev was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Bolgonbayev got 17 years.

The hardest evidence presented in court was a pistol belonging to Oralbayev’s brother on which traces of De Bourgues’ blood was found. The journalist’s laptop was also found at the home of a friend of Oralbayev’s in the town of Aktau. Oralbayev said he had wanted to get rid of the laptop because he knew the authorities wanted him for the murder.

The two defendants accused the police of subjecting them to psychological and physical pressure. They said they were forced to leave their fingerprints on various objects and were threatened with reprisals against their families if they did not confess to killing De Bourgues because he happened to be at home while they were burgling his apartment.

The leading witness was De Bourgues’ interpreter, who was present during the break-in. Her account of the events changed during the trial. After initially saying that one of the three intruders was of Slavic origin, she subsequently said all three were of Asiatic origin. The defence claimed during the trial that she changed her story after talking to he police, who had persuaded her to make sure there were no discrepancies between her version and the police version. She also said she recognised Bolgonbayev’s voice.

Aged 24, De Bourgues was murdered after going to Kazakhstan with the intention of staying for three months to help prepare an advertising feature which the Kazakh government had commissioned from SML Strategic Media. The police said he had the misfortune to be killed by three burglars who broke into his apartment and stole between 4,000 and 5,000 euros, a laptop and a mobile phone.

Reporters Without Borders visited Almaty from September 20 to 24 to investigate the case. During the visit, the deputy interior ministry undertook to allow the De Bourgues family and their lawyers and representatives to have access to the case file and to attend any trial that took place.

The family had meanwhile filed a request in Paris on 8 September for a French judicial investigation, which was assigned to investigating judge Olivier Deparis. After being granted civil party status in this investigation on 20 November, Reporters Without Borders urged Deparis to travel to Kazakhstan as soon as possible. The trial of the two alleged killers began in Almaty on 31 January.

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