The start of legal investigations abroad into the alleged Swiss bank accounts of President Nursultan Nazarbayev led to new attacks on press freedom in Kazakhstan. The authorities used various excuses to shut down a large number of privately-owned newspapers and TV stations which had all carried reports that the president and his associates had embezzled nearly $20 billion dollars in oil revenues.
The government used harassment, censorship, legal intimidation and control of printing and publishing to crack down on the independent and opposition media. Journalists close to the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan party, founded in November 2001, were routinely targeted. Contrary to European standards, media offences were considered crimes and punishable by prison terms. Article 318 of the criminal code was frequently used to prosecute journalists for allegedly harming the reputation and dignity of the president.
The treatment of journalist and human rights activist Sergei Duvanov was typical. He was savagely beaten by thugs, prosecuted for harming the reputation of President Nazarbayev and was then accused or raping a minor.
Two journalists killed
Alexei Pugayev, co-publisher of the opposition newspaper and Internet website Eurasia, was knocked down and killed by a car on 4 January 2002. He had frequently criticised the president and his associates.
Nuri Muftah, correspondent of the opposition paper Respublika 2000 and editor of the weekly Altyn Gasyr, in the western town of Atyrau, was knocked down and killed by a bus on 17 November as he returned from reporting on living conditions of women in the southern town of Shymkent. Police said it was an accident, but some witnesses said the journalists was pushed in front of the bus. During his investigations in Shymkent, he was attacked by three thugs. He had written many articles denouncing government corruption.
There was no clear indication that the death of Pugayev or Muftah was because of their work.
Three journalists imprisoned
A court in Pavlodar sentenced Kanat Tusupbekov, correspondent of the independent TV station Irbis TV, to two years in prison on 18 June 2002 for "hooliganism." He had been attacked in a restaurant by thugs on 20 April. When he went to the police station to file a complaint, he was beaten up by the police and badly injured. After this second assault, he tried to file a complaint but was refused. The three men who attacked him in the restaurant, however, filed a complaint against him, saying he had started a fight. He was found guilty of attacking them.
In early April, an Irbis TV team was forced by police in Almaty to stop filming a police operation targeting the wife of Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, jailed co-leader of the opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan.
Sagyngali Kapizov, editor of the weekly Altyn Gasyr, in Atyrau, was arrested on 29 July and accused of harming the reputation and dignity of the president in an article criticising government policy. He was freed on 18 September.
Sergei Duvanov, editor of the opposition magazine Bulletin, published by the International Bureau for Human Rights, was arrested on 28 October and accused of raping a minor. He had been due to fly the next day to the United States to present a report on democracy and human rights in Kazakhstan. He was held at the Almaty remand centre and went on a 10-day hunger strike in an effort to prove his innocence. At the end of the year, the trial was still going on.
At a press conference at the European Commission in Brussels on 29 November, President Nazarbayev said Duvanov’s "guilt had been proved." His trial began in Almaty on 24 December, but his lawyers were not allowed to see all the case file.
Two journalists arrested
Batyrkhan Darimbet, correspondent of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty in Almaty, was arrested on 13 June 2002 while reporting on a rally of the retired government employees movement Pokoleniye and supporters of the opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement. Although he showed his press card and said why he was at the rally, he was held for five hours until the US embassy managed to obtain his release. Bakhytgul Makimbay, correspondent of the daily SolDat, was held for four hours on the same occasion.
Artur Platonov, co-producer and presenter of "Portret nedely," the main political programme of the independent TV station KTK, was attacked by three thugs in front of his home in Almaty on 16 August 2002. Police identified them as former policemen but officially said the journalist’s injuries were caused by a collision between his car and that of the attackers. The TV station’s deputy chief, Stanislas Los, said the attack was planned by powerful people whose names he did not know. Platonov had denounced corruption among the police and had regularly received anonymous threats. At the end of November, the three former policemen were each given one-year suspended jail sentences for attacking Platonov.
Journalist and human rights activist Sergei Duvanov, a leading government critic, was badly beaten up by three thugs on his way home on 28 August and hospitalised with serious head injuries. An opposition supporter, he edits the magazine Bulletin.
Thugs attacked the main office of the opposition newspaper SolDat on 21 May, hitting two employees, stealing computer equipment and smashing other equipment. The paper, which is close to an opposition party led by exiled former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, has been the target of much harassment and attacks on its offices over the past two years. Editor Ermurat Bapi was prosecuted in 2000 for publishing an article considered insulting to President Nazarbayev.
Pressure and obstruction
During the first quarter of 2002, access to the Internet website kub.kz, which is close to the opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, was blocked by the Internet service providers (ISPs) Kazakhtelecom, Nursat and Arna-Sprint.
Irina Petrushova, editor of the opposition weekly Respublika, which investigates political corruption, was sent a funeral wreath on 8 March. The body of a headless dog was hung over the office entrance on 19 May. The offices burned down three days later after petrol bombs were thrown at the building. Two suspects were arrested on 24 July. On 4 July, Petrushova was sentenced to 18 months in prison for not having declared her Russian nationality but immediately amnestied. On 24 July, the authorities ordered the liquidation of PR-Consulting, which publishes the paper, for violating administrative rules.
On 29 March and 15 May, the transmitter of the station TAN TV was damaged by unknown people. After it was repaired, the authorities suspended the station, which was owned by Muhtar Ablyazov, co-leader of the opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, and broadcast very political programmes. The station was bought by an associate of President Nazarbayev and switched to entertainment-only programmes.
Between March and May and at several other times during the year, access to the Internet website respublika.kz was blocked by ISPs Kazakhtelecom and Nursat. The site contained information about the prosecution of the two main leaders of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan.
The equipment of cameramen Ruslan Tairov, Valery Pavlov and Igor Konovalov, of Tan TV and Irbis TV was destroyed by police on 2 April while they were reporting on a meeting in support of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan co-leader Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, who had taken refuge in the French embassy in Almaty.
Access to the independent website navigator.kz was blocked on 20 May after it posted an interview with a former Geneva prosecutor, Bernard Bertossa, confirming that President Nazarbayev and other top officials had Swiss bank accounts. The interview, done by Lira Baysetova, former editor of the opposition weekly Respublika 2000, was also published in the daily paper SolDat.
On 21 June, Baysetova’s daughter Leila died in suspicious circumstances. Police said she tried to hang herself in her cell on 16 June while being held by police for alleged possession of drugs. She was taken to hospital unconscious and died there five days later.
Pro-opposition journalist and human rights activist Sergei Duvanov, editor of the magazine Bulletin, was prosecuted on 9 July for harming the reputation and dignity of President Nazarbayev. Under article 318 of the criminal code, he risked three years in prison. He had published an article on the opposition website kub.kz on 6 May called "The Silence of the Lambs," sharply criticising the president and saying he had embezzled public funds.
Police searched his apartment and office and took away documents and computer equipment. On 11 July, police interrogated him for four hours. By the end of the year, legal proceedings had been suspended. Access to kub.kz was blocked on 29August.
On 4 September, the ISP Nursat blocked access in some parts of the country to zhakiyanov.info, the official website of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan leader Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, who had been sentenced to seven years in prison.