Kazakh authorities need to conduct a thorough investigation into last weekend’s attack on a German journalist and bring the perpetrators to justice, Human Rights Watch said today.

Marcus Bensmann, an independent investigative journalist whose reporting exposed human rights abuses in Central Asia, was brutally beaten in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on January 20.
Between 3 and 4 a.m. on January 20, the 38-year-old German journalist left a night club called Chocolate in Astana, where he was researching a documentary on Kazakhstan’s capital. Around three hours later, a passerby found Bensmann on the street, beaten and without shoes or a jacket, in -30 Celsius degree weather. Bensmann was registered at a private hospital at 8.05 a.m. and diagnosed with a skull fracture, fractured jaw and ribs, and frostbitten limbs.

“It’s difficult to believe the assault on Marcus Bensmann was a casual attack,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “We’ve seen too many independent journalists attacked in this region in the past few years, and Bensmann has published work critical of governments in Central Asia.”

Bensmann is married to the Uzbek journalist Galima Bukharbaeva, who is an outspoken and active critic of the Uzbek government and runs a news website on Uzbekistan. Both Bensmann and Bukharbaeva were eyewitnesses to the massacre in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May 2005. Afterwards, Bensmann stayed another 10 days in the city to report on the situation and the immediate crackdown on local journalists and civil society activists. He had to flee the country due to threats. In the indictments of individuals charged with the Andijan uprising, the Uzbek authorities accused Bensmann of spreading false information.

Over the last couple of years, Bensmann covered the issue of European Union sanctions on Uzbekistan, publishing numerous articles in newspapers such as Die Tageszeitung and Neue Zürcher Zeitung. He was also working with the German TV channel ARD on a program about Uzbekistan, which is to be aired on January 31.

“Kazakhstan is in the spotlight since it was recently awarded the OSCE chairmanship for 2010,” said Cartner. “The Kazakh authorities should demonstrate their commitment to freedom of speech and rule of law by investigating the attack on Bensmann and holding the perpetrators accountable.”

Three months ago another journalist fiercely critical of the Uzbek government, Alisher Saipov, was shot and killed in Kyrgyzstan.