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Kazakhstan17 February 2004

Minister fires editor of sports weekly for criticising government

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the dismissal of Kazakhstan’s most famous sports journalist by tourism and sports minister Daulet Turlykhanov as a "frontal attack on press freedom" and called for his immediate reinstatement.

Nesip Zhunusbayev was fired on 12 February as the editor of the weekly Sport & KS, which is published by Turlykhanov’s ministry, over an article criticising the way Kazakhstan’s athletes are being trained and prepared for the Athens Olympic Games.

Headlined "Where is the development of Kazakh sport leading?" and addressed "For the government’s attention," the article also criticised the privatisation of several sports facilities and called for more government support for the development of sport in rural areas.

The minister said the article, which appeared in the government daily Egemen Kazakhstan on 17 January and was reprinted in Sport & KS a week later, had undermined his authority and sullied his ministry’s reputation. He also said Zhunusbayev should have submitted it to the ministry for approval before publishing it.

The author of 15 books, Zhunusbayev has said he intends to file a lawsuit denouncing the illegality of his dismissal from Sport & KS, which he created. Fellow journalists have protested against his sacking.

Press freedom is extremely precarious in Kazakhstan, where most of the news media are controlled by close associates of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, including his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva.

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