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Kazakhstan3 December 2008

Intelligence agency pressures newspaper editor to reveal source of leak

Reporters Without Borders condemns the harassment of independent journalist Ramazan Esergepov by the National Security Committee (KNB), which wanted him to reveal how he obtained an internal KNB memo. The harassment led Esergepov to seek refuge inside the US consulate in Almaty.

“The pressure applied to Esergepov was out of all proportion,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The KNB should track down the source of the leak within its own ranks. Esergepov has nothing to answer for. The confidentiality of a reporter’s sources is one of the pillars of investigative journalism. Protecting it is vital.”

The press freedom organisation added : “We call on the police and those in charge at the KNB to ensure that this harassment stops. Such methods are contrary to the values defended by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Kazakhstan is supposed to take over the presidency in 2010.”

The owner and editor of the weekly Alma Ata Info, Esergepov published a story on 21 November which was headlined “Who really runs our country, the president or the KNB ?” and which cited an internal KNB memo.

On 29 November, KNB officials searched his home in the former capital, Almaty, and the office of the weekly, located in the same building, looking for anything that would help them identify the source of the leak.

He was summoned to KNB headquarters at 11 a.m. on 1 December - to be interviewed “as a witness,” according to the KNB. While he was there, KNB officers tried to force him to get into a car and accompany them to talk to the head of a regional office located 500 km southwest of Almaty.

Esergepov managed to escape and fled to the US consulate, where he spent the night and requested political asylum. He was asked to leave yesterday and he now fears for his safety.

During the search of his home and office, which lasted 16 hours, seven computers, six mobile phones and many documents were taken, while Esergepov had to be rushed to hospital with a high blood pressure attack. He left the hospital at 5 p.m. the next day.

He was originally supposed to report to KNB headquarters for questioning at 3 p.m. on 30 November but, because of his hospitalisation, it was rescheduled for the following day. Before going, Esergepov gave a news conference with Rozlana Taukina, the head of Journalist in Danger, the Reporters Without Borders partner organisation in Kazakhstan.

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