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Kazakhstan October 4, 2006
H.E. Nursultan Nazarbaev
Ul. Beybitshilik 11
Republic of Kazakhstan
Fax: (011.7.3172) 24-33-08/ 32-30-73
We write on behalf of the Overseas Press Club of America (OPC), a New York-based association of international journalists founded in 1939, to express concern over a disturbing trend toward repression of the news media in your country.
OPC joins an international chorus of leading journalists, editors, media executives and organizations devoted to press freedom in condemning recent amendments to Kazakhstan’s media law that impose significant and intimidating new restrictions. According to the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), these amendments will make Kazakhstan’s media law among the most restrictive in Central Asia, unreasonably increasing the number of causes for denying a media operation official registration, and barring owners and editors of previously banned publications from taking similar positions with other media outlets.
We also note with concern that in August a journalist, Kaziz Togusbayev, was — for the second time — charged with insulting the honor and dignity of the president, under Article 318 of the Criminal Code, because of an article he wrote in April for an Internet site, www.kub.kz (“Roman Catholic Pope and Astana Pope – feel the difference.”). He had previously faced similar charges after publishing an article titled, “Mafia regime shadows the murderers of Altynbeck Sarsenbayev.”
In this matter, the OPC seconds the view of Tamara Kaleyeva, president of the Adil Soz Foundation in Almaty: “This case has demonstrated once again that the court system in Kazakhstan keeps using antidemocratic criminal norms against journalists for carrying out their professional activities. It obviously contradicts the international freedom of expression standards.”
OPC also urges rigorous action by the legal system of Kazakhstan in two cases of violence against journalists. Most serious is the murder of French journalist Gregoire de Bourges in August at his home in Almaty, just as he completed an assignment for the U.S. magazine, Foreign Affairs. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the world-wide press freedom organization, the journalist’s Kazakh translator says that three armed men broke in, demanded money in Russian, then stabbed him to death.
Also demanding full investigation in the assault in August by police on 31 Channel – Aktau cameraman, Murat Bekmagambetov, while he was carrying out his professional activities covering a political demonstration at Yntymak Square in Aktau. According to the Adil Soz Foundation, Bekmagambetov was hit over the head with a truncheon and his camera broken by an officer. 31 Channel director, Stanislav Tokmashev, and reporters, Svetlana Sultangereyeva and Sandugash Shortanova, also were prevented from completing their assignment to cover the demonstration, and were prevented from taking alcohol tests, despite a charge by the mayor’s office that they had behaved drunkenly.
Your Excellency, such actions only serve to denigrate and intimidate the free press that is a hallmark and requirement of democracy around the world today. We urge you to set your country on a new course with the following actions:
• Create an atmosphere of trust in Kazakhstan through your personal affirmation and support of press freedom. This includes allowing journalists to practice their trade without fear of retribution from the state.
• Publicly condemn attacks on freedom of the press, and insist on full and fair official investigations, so the citizens of Kazakhstan will feel your commitment to an open society.
• Repeal the restrictive new amendments to Kazakhstan ‘s media law.
We look forward to your response and thank you for your consideration.
David M. Alpern
Freedom of the Press Committee
Office of the Prime Minister
Republic of Kazakhstan
Fax: (011.7.3272) 63-76-33 or 63-95-95
Ms. Tamara Kaleyeva
Adil Soz Foundation for Protection
of Freedom of Speech
Zhambyl Street , 25
Kanat B. Saudabayev Republic of Kazakhstan
Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan
1401 16th Street, NW
Washington , DC 20036
Fax: (202) 232-5845
Ambassador Yerzhan Kh. Kazykhanov
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan
to the United Nations
866 United Nations Plaza , Suite 586
New York , NY 10017
Fax: (212) 230-1172
John M. Ordway
U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan
Embassy of the United States of America
99/97A Furmanov Street
Fax: (011.7.3272) 50-24-77