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Kazakhstan7 January 2009

Masked security men arrest hospitalised newspaper editor on charge of divulging confidential information

Reporters Without Borders joins its partner organisation in Kazakhstan, Journalist in Danger, in voicing concern about journalist Ramazan Esergepov’s state of health and the conditions in which he has been held since heavily-armed masked members of the National Security Committee (KNB) arrested him at an Almaty hospital yesterday.

The owner and editor of the weekly Alma Ata Info, Esergepov had been hospitalised since 25 December with cardiac problems and high blood pressure.

“The circumstances of Esergepov’s arrest are outrageous,” Reporters Without Borders said. “He is accused solely of publishing leaked confidential information. He is not a dangerous criminal who has to be arrested in a hospital by masked men with guns.”

The press freedom organisation added : “We fear he could be subjected to physical and psychological pressure to make him reveal the source of the leaked documents, and we urge the Kazakh authorities to guarantee his personal safety and respect for his right of defence.”

Esergepov was getting ready for a medical examination for hypertension when four masked members of the KNB armed with automatic rifles arrested him, escorted him out of the hospital through an emergency exit, bundled him into a vehicle and drove him off in the direction of the KNB office in Taraz (400 km south of Almaty). It was only four hours later that his wife learned that he had been arrested and taken to Taraz.

The KNB issued a press release confirming his arrest for “divulging confidential information.” The charge relates to a story Esergepov published on 21 November headlined “Who really runs our country, the president or the KNB ?” It cited an internal memo from the KNB office in Taraz.

When Esergepov’s home and the Alma Ata Info office were searched a week after the story’s publication, he went to the US embassy in Almaty seeking refuge but was persuaded to leave the next day. He said at the time he was ready to be questioned in Almaty but would not go Taraz because he feared for his safety there.

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