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As plans for early presidential elections developed through the summer and early fall of 1998, state authorities began a campaign to curb critical media. The government began with vague threats to prosecute independent media through the courts for political offenses in April and May. Perhaps in reaction to international scrutiny, it found ways to stymie the publication and distribution of unsympathetic newspapers that did not require overtly political measures. The independent electronic media had already been brought under state control in 1997.44 Nonetheless, particularly in the period from September through December, the government succeeded in halting or suspending the publication of at least three non-state publications, and seriously complicating the work of many others.

The government of Kazakhstan called upon the use of four methods to hamper the independent print media in the nine months preceding the January 1999 presidential vote. Authorities brought criminal charges against individuals and publications, accusing them of engaging in criminal speech. Other law-based measures included confiscating papers on grounds of alleged violations of the Law on the Mass Media, as well as bankrupting papers through massive libel damages awarded to government officials. The second method involved disruption of the papers' activities by various state agencies-including the tax inspectorate, customs agents, and state printing and distribution networks.45 Third, government officials and editors of state media outlets alike engaged in formal and informal censorship, sometimes outright forbidding journalists from using material, and sometimes resorting to less obvious types of pressure. Finally, it is alleged that in at least one incident, violence was used to thwart publication of a critical newspaper.

These actions, whether undertaken directly by state employees, or by others under the active or tacit sanction of government officials, clearly contravene Kazakhstan's domestic and international legal obligation to protect freedom of expression.46

Restrictions in Criminal and Civil Law Inhibiting Free Speech
Indictment of the Kazakh Media

Late in April 1998, President Nazarbaev scathingly criticized Kazakhstan's media during a cabinet session and made several threatening remarks about "well-deserved" punishments the media could face.47 These remarks came on the eve of a conference on the broadcast media in the new capital, Akmola, sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency, and of the publication of a half-page article by former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin in one of the leading privately owned papers, Karavan. Several days later, the Procuracy General issued a press release announcing criminal charges against numerous private media outlets for 270 alleged violations of Kazakh law, including "abuses of freedom of speech, incitement of national enmity...aimed at instigating disputes and controversy over the country's history and sovereignty." Though the procuracy denied that the charges were intended "to prevent the professional activity of print and electronic media, or citizens' expression of their opinions, convictions and ideas," the announcement clearly aimedto silence critical voices. It said that the charges stemmed from the media's "non-objective, insulting statements directed at government organs, officials and ordinary citizens."48

The procuracy initially named no concrete violators; but later, the Interior Ministry gave the names of four publications.49 Ultimately, it did not press any charges against any media outlet. But Kazakhstan's media outlets had been served notice that state authorities were watching them closely, and were prepared not only to intimidate them, but to take more serious action.50

The Law on National Security

On June 26, 1998, Kazakhstan's parliament passed the Law on National Security of the Republic of Kazakhstan (henceforth, the Law on National Security), which contained several broadly formulated provisions that have the potential to chill freedom of expression.51 The law defines threats to "national security" as any action giving rise to, among other things, "the heightening of socio-political tensions, resulting in inter-ethnic or inter-confessional conflict, mass disorders, unsanctioned meetings, demonstrations, pickets and strikes." Article 22 defines measures to protect "informational security": part six gives the procurator general the power to close any media outlet judged to "pose a risk to national security," without specifying what agency can make that determination. This provision contradicts the existing 1991 Law on the Mass Media, which in article 13 empowered only a court or the publishers themselves to shut down a media outlet. Moreover, the new law forbids "releasing any official or other information pertaining to state interests" (article 22, section 5, part 3). Other provisions forbid distributing any foreign media source containing information that "threatens national security (article 22, point 4)," and outlaw foreign ownership of more than a 20 percent stake in any media outlet (article 22, point 4). Ironically, the law was passed on June 26, only two days before journalists' professional holiday, "Press Day."

International law in general permits restrictions on expression, for the protection of national security or of public order, or public health or morals, and it is understood that such restrictions must not jeopardize the right to free expression. The Law on National Security fails to justify its overly broad categories of restrictions in terms of specific national security interests. In at least one case, the authorities exploited the law's vagueness in order to cripple an independent newspaper during the campaign period.

The procurator general issued an order on October 25, 1998, closing TOO Big-L, the company that published the paper XXI Vek. The Almaty City Department of Justice notified the company's owner and editor-in-chief, Bigeldi Gabdullin, of the order, allegedly in writing, but Gabdullin said he was unable to obtain a copy of the actual order, or to find out on what grounds the procuracy had moved against his firm. Gabdullin first appealed to the procuracy in person to obtain a copy of the order, but was refused. He then tried to file a suit in an Almaty district court to forcethe procuracy to provide a copy of the order, to no avail-the court refused to accept the case.52 Finally, approximately one month after the order was issued, a journalist working for XXI Vek said he learned from an unnamed source within the procuracy that the procurator general based his action on the paper's alleged violations of the Law on National Security.53 The same source reported that an article that the paper published in September comparing Kazakhstan with its neighbor, Uzbekistan, was alleged by the procuracy to have ignited national enmity.

The paper's bank accounts were frozen; early in November electricity in the building where its offices are located was briefly cut off in what appeared to be a punitive measure. Using private funds, the paper continued to publish, until its accounts were un-frozen in January 1999. Shortly after the presidential election on January 10, the procurator general issued an order rescinding his original decision on the closure of TOO Big-L.54

Impugning "Honor and Dignity" Violations

Kazakhstan's criminal code contains several provisions limiting freedom of expression: it establishes a penalty of up to three years of imprisonment for "impugning the honor and dignity of the President of the republic" (article 318), or for "slander of official persons," and up to four years of imprisonment for "incitement of social, national [ethnic], clan, racial or religious enmity" (article 164). These provisions encroach on legitimate freedom of expression in Kazakhstan, because they are used against those who forward legitimate criticism of state officials that is fully protected political comment and opinion under international human rights standards. Two opposition politicians were charged with this offense in 1998, the threat of which is a significant means of intimidation. One was sentenced to a year in prison; the investigation against another was allowed to flag, though the charges were not formally dropped.
On February 27, 1998, without presenting a procurator's sanction as mandated by Kazakh criminal procedure, police detained Madel Ismailov, chairman of the opposition "Workers' Movement," holding him incommunicado for several days before informing relatives of his whereabouts. "They didn't even show any identification," according to Ismailov, who was beaten at the time of his arrest.55 An Almaty court convicted Ismailov on April 7 of insulting the honor and dignity of the president, in connection with a pejorative term he allegedly used in addressing the president during a peaceful opposition demonstration in Almaty in November 1997.56

The Karaganda paper Soroko was also threatened with being charged with offending the honor and dignity of the president. If committed through the mass media, this offense carries a maximum penalty of three years of imprisonment.57 After the confiscation of Soroko's October 29 edition, the Committee for National Security (or KNB, formerly the KGB) summoned an expert commission of lawyers, political scientists, and other scholars, which determined that Soroko had in fact not violated article 318. Soon after that determination, however, a court halted Soroko's publication on other grounds (see below).

"Inciting National Enmity"

The government charged Petr Svoik, co-chairman of the opposition political party Azamat (Citizen), with slander, offending an official, as well as "inciting national conflict" through an article published in Karavan in March, entitled"Kazakhstan and Russian: Will They Enter into a New Union?"58 Procurator General Iurii Khitrin named the article specifically in his May speech before parliament on violations of law by the media, but did not file charges until October.59 Svoik learned of the accusations while in the Almaty jail serving a three-day administrative sentence for participation in the founding meeting of the Movement For Honest Elections (see below). "Right away in the holding cell two investigators came to me and informed me that the criminal case had been opened," Svoik recounted.60 Upon receiving the news of the charges, which potentially carried combined penalties of up to seven years of imprisonment, Svoik suffered heart pains and was transferred to a hospital, from which he was released several days later.
Karavan editors prefaced the article, which appeared under the rubric "Hyde Park," by noting that it was sure to be controversial, even to arouse the ire of the government, and that they could not agree with many of its arguments, but that nevertheless Kazakhstan's constitutional guarantees of free speech "make it possible for citizens who hold all kinds of political convictions to express themselves in print."61 In it, Svoik analyses the long history of Kazakh-Russian relations, outlining some of the major factors complicating Kazakhstan's efforts to establish independence from its northern neighbor.

Authorities claimed that several statements in the article, which they interpreted as denigrating the Kazakhs as a people, could serve to incite ethnic hatred. The charges claimed that Svoik's assertion that government officials were often corrupt and incompetent amounted to "knowingly, publicly, and in the media insulting government representatives." Finally, the investigator made the claim that Svoik's characterization of Kazakhstan as poor and provincial:

[has] harmful and dangerous consequences for the preservation of political stability in the Republic, because it fuels the chauvinistically-minded part of the Russian-speaking population in their conviction that Kazakhs, as a nation, are deficient or "intellectually poor."62

On November 20, a group of nearly thirty ethnic Kazakh intellectuals issued an open letter refuting the idea that Svoik in any way supported ethnic chauvinism. The letter also called into question the timing of the charges, coming as they did at the beginning of the presidential election campaign.63

During the following six weeks, six different investigators summoned Svoik for questioning. Though he continued to publish articles and to organize Azamat, the threat of imprisonment, Svoik explained, was "...stressful. Though [theaccusations] are odious, are a caricature, nevertheless they could put me in prison without batting an eye."64 By early December, Svoik ceased to be called in for questioning; he was given to understand that the investigation had lapsed but that the charges had not been formally dropped.

The Press and Media Law

Courts used the press law arbitrarily to halt publication of papers whose content seemed favorable to the opposition. The weekly Karaganda newspaper Soroko had published six issues when, on October 23, their entire print run of 30,000 was first seized at the Russian-Kazakh border, then removed from private distribution (see below).65 In fact, article 22 of the Law on the Media states that "Obstructing the lawful distribution of media products, including the confiscation of print runs in whole or in part, is not permitted, except on the basis of a court order." After the confiscation of the October 22 issue, on October 27 the Karaganda regional procurator's office did issue an order halting the publication of Soroko for six months, based on alleged violations of article 18 of the Law on the Media.66 The procuracy accused the paper of not printing in each issue the hour the issue went to press, the price of the paper, and the address of the editorial office and printing press. In fact, this charge is certainly motivated more than by the fact that Soroko has links to former prime minister Kazhegeldin than by vigilant defense of the law: article 18 of the law does not require that the hour of publication be shown (this was usual in Soviet times for daily papers; Soroko is a weekly). With regard to the sale price, privately owned Kazakhstan papers usually state on their cover pages that they are sold according to "free" or "market" price (tsena dogovornaia), as did Soroko. And in fact, as Junusova stated:

In every issue of the paper we give the detailed address, and we even have a map of how to get there. We don't have a printing press....All of the national newspapers, in other words, pro-presidential ones, give only the name of the press where they are printed, without the address. Karavan writes only that they are printed by the Daur printing press; they don't even name the city.67

The district court in Karaganda did not respond to a protest against the procuracy's order lodged by the editor and publisher of Soroko. On the same day that the procuracy issued the order, the publisher was informed that the court would hear the case, although the judge had received neither a summons nor a copy of the charges.

The court did not inform the editors of the decision to confiscate the papers. When the October 29 issue went to press in Novosibirsk and reached the Kazakh border, customs officials again sequestered the entire print run, this time of eight thousand. Only after a few days did the editors receive a letter from the customs department, informing them that because the customs agency believed that the paper violated article 318 of the Kazakh criminal code (offending the honor and dignity of the president-see above), the papers had been transferred to the KNB, the agency responsible for making this determination. Neither the customs agency nor the KNB, however, indicated to the editor the grounds for this suspicion, which apparently was fabricated in order to prevent the further distribution of Soroko before the Karaganda district court made a formal ruling on the article 18 charges.

When the Karaganda district court did hear the article 18 charges on December 4 and 7, Soroko's editors represented themselves, as the lawyer they had hired had been pressured not to represent the paper, according to principal editor Jumabekir Junusova. Several other lawyers refused to take the case. The court upheld the procuracy's charge in part, but as Junusova recounted, "the judge did not take into account the fact that all of the violations hadbeen corrected in the October 29 issue."68 The court upheld the decision to halt publication of the paper, but for only five weeks, until January 8-that is, two days before the presidential election. Junusova told Human Rights Watch:

They counted out the days; they were working with the calendar in their hands. We were read the decision aloud, and both the director and the editor signed it. I said to the judge, "Elena Ivanovna, I understand that the decision has already been taken, but let me just ask, why are you forbidding exactly five issues? Why not ten, or two?" She glared at me and said, "Because I said so!"69

Criminal Libel

On September 10, 1998, an Almaty district court awarded an enormous award to the head of the government-funded Kazakhstan-1 television channel in his libel suit against the newspaper Dat. Dat had made a practice of publishing articles on government corruption. In this case, however, the paper merely re-printed an account of a July 7 press conference in which a former employee of the television channel claimed that the station misused government funds. The head of the station sued Dat, arguing that it had caused him material and moral harm, and demanding 35 million tenge (approximately U.S.$457,000) in compensation.70 Soon after the first Almaty court rendered its decision in favor of the plaintiff, police seized Dat's computer equipment and other property, and froze its bank accounts.71 Finally, after the paper's appeals were rejected, another court ruled in early December that the paper was bankrupt, and closed it.72

State Agencies
Printing Presses and Distribution Services

Beginning in May 1998, and with increasing frequency after September, state-owned and private printers and distribution networks canceled contracts with independent newspapers, often with little notice and without citing any grounds for cancellation. This impeded publication of the papers by forcing them to seek alternatives, often at short notice, and to foot higher costs for transportation from distant printing presses, often outside of Kazakhstan.

Most of Kazakhstan's printing facilities are government owned. One privately owned press, Almaty's "Franklin" printing house, broke its contract with the opposition newspaper XXI Vek on September 9, 1998, reportedly without explanation.73 In May, both Franklin's Astana branch and another printing press in the capital told the publisher of Lad (Concord), the newspaper of the Slavic movement, that "we don't have the technical capacity to print your paper," despite having concluded contracts to do so only one month earlier. Another provincial paper, Irtysh, had its state publishing house contract suddenly cancelled on September 25, 1998; the printing press would not supply any grounds for the cancellation. According to its editor, this step came in retaliation for Irtysh's decision to print a public appeal by the Movement For Honest Elections.74 Lad also had several printing contracts cancelled late in 1997 and early in 1998, before finding a small Almaty printing house that agreed to publish the paper. In July 1998, after Lad printedan article by Petr Svoik, then under investigation for allegedly inciting ethnic hatred (see above), police raided the printing house in search of materials from Lad. A private press continued to clandestinely print the paper until December, after which the paper ceased publication.75

Newspapers whose printing presses have canceled contracts and have been refused printing services in Kazakhstan have turned to presses outside the country, in Kyrgyzstan or in Russia. Tsentr turned to a printing press in Novsibirsk, Russia.76 The editors of Soroko, aware of problems with other independent papers, including Tsentr, made the decision from the beginning (the first issue appeared September 25, 1998) to print the paper in the Russian city of Novosibirsk. The Kazakh-language paper Dat was also forced to use printing services in Russia.

After papers are printed, publishers must find ways of putting them in readers' hands. The state-run distribution service, Dauis, the successor to Soiuzpechat',77 has the widest network of distribution points, and functions essentially as the sole truly national press distribution network. In addition, only through Dauis can readers subscribe to publications for home delivery. In September, Dauis refused to distribute XXI Vek.78

Aside from the state-owned national distributor, small private news agents contract directly with publishers to ship papers from printing presses to kiosks and paper-sellers nation-wide. Publishers of several independent papers, including Dat, XXI Vek, and 451 po Farengeitu, reported that from September on, unidentified agents in civilian clothes questioned and intimidated private distributors of those papers. Typically, paper sellers on the streets would be approached by one or two men who would ask about the origin of the publications, who brought them, and at what time. Sometimes, the sellers would be threatened with confiscation of the papers and warned against distributing them.79

Customs Police

Turning to printing houses in the "near abroad," as an alternative to printing within Kazakhstan, posed new obstacles: the importation of whole print runs were blocked. The editor of XXI Vek, which is printed in Russia, reported that in October 1998, customs officials confiscated several editions of the paper from private distributors who were shipping it by train across the country. Jumabekir Junusova of Soroko, which is also published in Russia, described the confiscation by customs officials of the October 22 and 29 editions of the paper at the Kazakh-Russian border:

When customs department agents came to our editorial offices, they began to read the paper to find out what it was that we were writing. They had been looking long and hard for some sort of incriminating material, when suddenly one of the agents said "they published a statement by Kazhegeldin!" They looked upon this as a criminal act...and they were so happy to find something...80

After the first confiscation, customs agents were forced to return the papers, as they had no legal sanction to hold the materials. Four hours after releasing the first issue, customs agents returned to the headquarters of the paper and confiscated the remaining 1,650 copies, which had not yet been sold to press agents. The very next day, they removed the paper from all state-run press agents and private newsstands. When owners of the private kiosks, which had purchased the papers, protested, the regional government in Karaganda ordered their copies returned to them (not all received them). The October 29 issue was again halted by customs agents at the border, and submitted to the KNBin an investigation of whether or not materials violated the "presidential honor and dignity" statute of the criminal code (see above). Customs police, and then officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, confiscated the November 4 edition of Dat, claiming that it had been illegally transported across the border (when in fact editors presented them with the customs declaration two hours after the police arrived at Dat's offices).81

Tax Police

On October 19, 1998, several officers of the state tax police appeared at the editorial offices of the Astana newspaper Tsentr, and presented an order signed by the head of the local tax administration, dated October 16, authorizing an audit. According to lawyers for the paper, the order did not indicate the time period for which the audit was to be conducted, as is the usual practice. The paper's bank accounts were frozen and financial records confiscated by the officers. Ten days later, the editors of Tsentr pleaded in person to the head of the tax department to conclude the audit. They received no reply until December 22, nearly two months later, when they were informed that the audit would continue (and their documents and bank accounts would continue to be sequestered) until January 12, 1999-two days after the scheduled presidential election.82

In its June 26, 1998 issue, Dat, which began publication in April, ran an article reporting that Rakhat Aliev, head of the state tax police and President Nazarbaev's son-in-law, used government resources to organize a hunting trip for rare antelopes in the Chilii province. On July 22, 1998, seven uniformed agents of the state tax police came to the paper's editorial offices and presented an order from the tax administration authorizing them to perform an audit. According to Dat's editors, the agents rifled through office records over the course of four hours, making video recordings, and confiscating not only financial documentation but editorial records as well. The officers also repeatedly took all of the paper's cash, with which it was to pay authors' salaries and honoraria, and also sequestered all 20,000 copies of the latest edition of the paper, delivered that day from its printer in Russia. The following day another nine officers from the tax police appeared for a second search, and removed all of the office's computer equipment, which was used to edit and lay out the paper. In neither instance did the officers draw up an official report of their search or an official record of the property they removed.83

During the second search, on July 23, according to Editor-in-Chief Sharip Kurakbaev, one of the officers presented him with company stationery and stamps from three companies, registered in Almaty, New York, and Moscow, which were, allegedly, completely unfamiliar to him. The officer said that the paper and stamps were "found" during the previous day's search; Kurakbaev surmised that authorities planned to charge the paper with violating the Law on National Security (passed one month earlier), which forbids foreign ownership of more than a 20 percent share in any domestic media outlet. Dat was forced to close for several weeks; ultimately, perhaps due to the domestic and international outcry, the tax inspectorate declined to charge the paper with any violations. 84

Formal and Informal Censorship

State ownership of the major media allows officials to censor unflattering or critical material, as does pressure by state agencies on the privately owned media.85 In an example of the latter, it is alleged that private television companies issued explicit lists of forbidden topics to their reporters.86 But in the face of formal censorship, Kazakh journalists have in both the state-owned and private media long adapted to the need for preemptive self-censorship. When journalists transgress, stepping over the line between permitted criticism and material judged to be too threatening, they face retaliation. "Invitations" to discuss material with security agencies are a constant feature of editor's lives, and result in editorial "recommendations" that are far from voluntary.87 Human Rights Watch spoke with several journalists and editors whose careers were placed in jeopardy-or ended- in the pre-election period. Most were unwilling to risk further endangering their careers by speaking for attribution.

In January 1998, Rozlana Taukina was fired as the director of radio programming for the media conglomerate Karavan. Her dismissal followed closely after the broadcast of her radio call-in program featuring Serikbolsyn Abdildin, head of the Kazakhstan Communist Party. Abdildin, discussing the possibility of speeded-up presidential elections with listeners, sharply criticized both the current government and the owners of the Karavan conglomerate.
The station's explanation of her dismissal to Rozlana Taukina left no doubt that it came in retaliation for the outspoken interview. "And after that they fired me without any discussion, [asking]`How could you have allowed him to say that!'," Taukina related.88 Nonetheless, the president of Karavan invited her to resume her previous position at the station in July 1998.89 "They asked me to return to Karavan. The radio station had taken a serious dive; they wanted me to improve the programming and to make it popular again." She accepted the offer. The following month, in her capacity as head of ANESMICA, Taukina addressed a forum on journalism in Moscow with her own critical remarks on the state of media freedoms in Kazakhstan. Soon after her return, the station's chief called her in, and stated that she could remain at the station only under three conditions: if she left her position as president of ANESMICA, if she ceased to make public statements criticizing the government, and if her association dropped the lawsuits it was pursuing in order to reinstate the broadcasting frequencies confiscated during the 1996 tender process to its member stations. Taukina refused, and left her position at Karavan radio.

In early November 1998, Tamara Kaleeva, a staff writer for the government paper Kazakhstanskaia pravda, wrote an article critical of President Nazarbaev's decision to dismiss several judges of the Supreme Court and of district courts. Although the article had already gone to press, the editor struck it from the proofs as the issue went to print on November 5.

I wrote that this was done in the heat of the battle against corruption, and that it contradicted the law. I cited the precise legal statutes which were violated in this whole procedure. The editor wouldn't allow the article to be printed, although I didn't write anything in the article that was against the president.....He halted it while he clarified the situation. When he found out what was going on with the case, he said that I wanted to cause a confrontation between him and the president, and that if the article would have appeared he would have lost his job.90

Kaleeva then submitted the article to the opposition newspaper, 451 po Farengeitu, which published it.

After that, I was told [by the assistant editor] that "you are not allowed to publish in an opposition newspaper," that "this is a challenge to presidential power and authority," and that "the Minister of Information and Social Accord was highly displeased." They said I at least should have used a pseudonym....After the article appeared, the editor-in-chief [of Kazakhstanskaia pravda] told me that I would have to resign. I said I had no plans to resign, and that if he wanted to get rid of me he would have to fire me. But he had no grounds...91

After telling her to resign, according to her own account, the editors would not grant Tamara Kaleeva leave to attend a professional conference on freedom of speech in Moscow; she went ahead regardless. They made inquiries with the Kazakhstan embassy in Moscow, which not only confirmed that she had attended, but reported that Kaleeva "made statements at the Congress which negatively characterized the state of freedom of the press in Kazakhstan." Kaleeva received an official warning on her employment record. She ceased submitting articles for one month after this incident and thereafter has intentionally not submitted any controversial materials for publication.92

State broadcast media also had an interest in blocking critical views during this period. Writer and radio talk-show host Vladimir Ivanovich Litvinov broadcast the program Zemliaki (Compatriots) on Karaganda provincial radio for seven years. After the announcement of presidential elections in January, he said he noted a distinct change in radio programming:

I do not at all understand why during election campaigns everything must be painted in rosy colors, or hidden. Right after the parliament made the decision to move up the elections, one deputy whom I will not name asked to appear on the air with me. We began our conversation asking why it was necessary to hold early elections when people aren't receiving their pay? When the factories are standing idle...So I recorded this interview and submitted it to be broadcast that very day. A week went by, then two, but the program wasn't aired...You can't call this censorship, this is just cowardice, because the very same week the paper Industrialnaia karaganda [Industrial Karaganda] published an interview with this provincial deputy...of course there he was told that he shouldn't be quite so outspoken on the topic of elections.93

Like Tamara Kaleeva, after the incident Litvinov ceased submitting controversial material. He told Human Rights Watch, "[my programs] did not refer any more to the elections. It's too much work and stress on my nerves."94

Even self-censorship could not avert consequences for Vladimir Litvinov: the Karaganda provincial broadcast company fired him in early December, despite the popularity of his program, stating that "due to severe cutbacks in financing we are forced to annul your employment contract."95

Violence and Threats

A firebomb seriously damaged the editorial offices of the Almaty-based newspaper XXI Vek on September 26, 1998. The paper, which has been linked to former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, began publication in early 1998. Almost since its inception, the paper had been plagued with evident government interference: printing presses refused to produce it, agencies refused to distribute it, and officials threatened it with libel charges (see above). On Friday evening, September 26, the day that its editor-in-chief, Bigeldi Gabdullin, returned from a trip to the United States, several attackers threw ignited bottles of flammable material into the editorial offices, located on the second and third floors of an Almaty commercial building. Two of the bottles landed outside the building, where security guards saw them and put out the fires; the third destroyed Gabdullin's archives in his office.96 Police blocked Gabdullin's entrance to his offices for at least three days after the fire.97

Subsequently, Gabdullin was invited for several "discussions" with officers from the KNB who allegedly warned him that, "You spoiled things for yourself with this trip to America. You talked too much there."98

In the spring of 1998, the government organized an association of political and social groups, the Round Table in Support of Reforms. Vladimir Petrovich Mikhailov, head of the registered Slavic movement Lad and editor of its newspaper of the same name, was invited to participate. After the announcement of early presidential elections, in late October, President Nazarbaev himself took part in the forum, in which Mikhailov criticized the public activities in support of Nazarbaev's candidacy as "a comical farce." Mikhailov, who had earlier protested the calling of elections as a violation of the constitution and of the law on referenda, presented the president with a sharply critical list of ten policy recommendations, which he later published in the newspaper Lad.

On November 6, an unidentified man armed with a metal pipe attacked Mikhailov as he was on his way to work, striking him three times on the head before Mikhailov could defend himself. Mikhailov suffered a broken arm, finger, a concussion, and cuts to the head. The police initially did not react to phone calls reporting the attack; only after Mikhailov's acquaintances called the department of social organizations of the KNB did police arrive on the scene, three hours after the attack. Mikhailov himself searched the city's bazaars for his attacker; after a few days Mikhailov identified the man whom witnesses confirmed had for the five days preceding the attack repeatedly come to the building where Mikhailov worked.99 Police detained the suspect, who was transferred to a psychiatric facility; the Minister of Internal Affairs has publicly denied government involvement in the attack, according to Mikhailov.

44 This section addresses distinct violations of the right to freedom of expression documented by direct testimony in November and December 1998. It does not attempt to address the overall conduct of political campaigns in Kazakhstan's media. Other investigators who surveyed television coverage in the weeks before the election have shown that television showed a clear bias toward President Nazarbaev, who garnered the vast majority of air time and the most laudatory coverage. European Institute for the Media, "Media Coverage of Elections in Kazakhstan," February 1999. The government of Kazakhstan, in an attempt to counter this impression, widely distributed a videotaped sample of television coverage of the three opposition candidates, as well as a full English language transcript of the program. Letter from Ambassador Bolat Nurgaliev, December 28, 1998. Testimony gathered by Human Rights Watch confirmed that the government-run media, including television and radio broadcasters, routinely violated provisions of the election law which provides for the start of official campaigning only after the registration of candidates has been completed. Written statement by V.B. Bondarenko, member of the Organization of Russians, Karaganda, November 11, 1998. 45 The OSCE High Representative on Freedom of the Media underscored these measures in a report to the OSCE Permanent Council. He stated: "Kazakhstan...has not fully recovered from pre-election crackdown on the media. ... The pressure on Kazakhstan's independent media would appear to be mostly indirect. The Government apparently seeks to influence media coverage through licensing requirements, tax inspections and the occasional shut-down. I understand that pressure on the media somewhat alleviated after the election, but there are concerns that this kind of pressure might resurface in the days leading up to the parliamentary and local elections scheduled for later this year." The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Report to the Permanent Council on the Media Situation in Central Asia, Vienna, May 25, 1999. 46 Kazakhstan, though not a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights nor to the Optional Protocol, as a member state of the OSCE and United Nations, is bound by OSCE standards, as well as by the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948. Article 19 of the UDHR states that:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
The Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, signed in Copenhagen June 29, 19990 (hereafter the OSCE Copenhagen Document) binds Kazakhstan, as a member of the OSCE, to the standard outlined in article 9.1, which clearly mandates that the right to freedom of expression "will include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers." Under bilateral agreements as well, Kazakhstan committed itself to respect freedom of expression. The Final Report of the United States-Kazakhstan Joint Commission "reaffirmed their adherence to the principles of a free and democratic society, including...freedom of speech and assembly, and media independence, in accordance with their commitments as participating states in the OSCE." Kazakhstan's own constitution enshrines the right to freedom of expression in article 20, which states that "the freedom of speech and creative activities shall be guaranteed," and that "censorship shall be prohibited." Likewise, the Law on the Mass Media repeats these provisions, and furthermore forbids interference in the work of mass media organizations by government officials.

47 Delovaia nedelia [Business Week] (Almaty), June 24, 1998.

48 Kazakhstanskaia pravda, May 5, 1998.

49 Though it did not name Karavan, the procuracy's press release contained language that clearly referred to the controversial March article by Petr Svoik, published in Karavan (see below). Sviridov, Problemy svobody i kachestva kazakhstanskikh SMI, 1995-98 (Alma-Ata, 1998), p. 166. Nearly a month after the initial announcement, Interior Minister Qayirbek Suleymenov named Karavan, Kazakhstanskaia pravda, Rabochaia zhizn' [Workers' Life], and Biz-my, among others, as under investigation. RFE/RL Newsline, May 22, 1998.

50 The independent press reacted sharply to the procuracy's announcement, decrying this step backward towards censorship. Even the official state paper, Kazakhstanskaia pravda, perhaps realizing the furor this had caused, ran an editorial with the headline "Calm down, Procurator!" Andrei Sviridov (the leading chronicler of media freedoms in Kazakhstan), op. cit. , p. 166. Later in May the International Helsinki Federation sponsored a seminar on civil rights in Almaty, which drew international attention to the situation. Only in August did the procuracy announce that its investigation did not yield any evidence of criminal action by the major newspapers named; having dropped the action against the paper Karavan, it continued to press its suit against the author of the offending article, Petr Svoik (see below). Sviridov, op. cit., p. 174.

51 In article I, the law defines national security as consisting of three components: external security, military security, and information security, or "protection of state information resources and also the rights of the individual and the interests of society in the information sphere." Published in Kazakhstanskaia pravda, June 30, 1998, p. 3.

52 Human Rights Watch interview with Bigeldi Abdullin, Almaty, December 12, 1998.

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid.; telephone interview with Bigeldi Gabdullin, August 3, 1999.

55 Human Rights Watch interview, Madel Ismailov, Moscow, April 16, 1999.

56 Article 318 criminalizes "public insult to or other infringements on the honor and dignity of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan." Ugolovnyi kodeks Respubliki Kazakhstan (Almaty, 1997), p. 452. Ismailov served his one-year sentence in a general-regime labor camp in Kazakhstan's northern province, and was released on February 25, 1999. Human Rights Watch interview, Madel Ismailov, April 16, 1999. Evgenii Zhovtis, Chairman of the KIBHR, confirmed the basis for the suit. Testimony at the hearings of the U.S. Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, May 6, 1999.

57 Ugolovnyi kodeks respubliki Kazakhstan, Almaty, 1997, p. 452.

58 "Kazakhstan I Rossiia: Byt' li v novom soiuze?" Karavan, March 20, 1998, pp. 36-37. The charges finally leveled against Svoik were of violating article 164, part 2 (incitement of national hatred committed by a leader of a social organization), article 129, part 3 (slander, and accusing a person of committing a felony), and article 320, part 2 (offending an official) of the criminal code. Senior Investigator of the Department of Internal Affairs, Lieutenant Colonel P.Iu. Tepsaeva, Decree of Criminal Charges, October 17, 1998.

Svoik served from 1993 to 1996 as chairman of the State Anti-Monopoly Committee, a ministerial agency. He was dismissed in 1996 after a policy conflict with the government, which answered his criticism with criminal charges against him. The investigation against Svoik, for allegedly misappropriating $13 million in government funds, was allowed to languish, but the charges, according to Svoik, were never formally dropped. Azamat was established in 1996, after Svoik was forced out of his government post. The party advocates the parallel pursuit of political and economic reform in Kazakhstan.

59 Karavan, May 29, 1998.

60 Human Rights Watch interview with Petr Svoik, Almaty, December 3, 1998. Unless otherwise noted, information about Svoik's case is drawn from this interview.

61 Karavan, March 20, 1998, p. 36.

62 Senior Investigator of the Department of Internal Affairs, Lieutenant Colonel P.Iu. Tepsaeva, Decree of Criminal Charges, October 17, 1998, p. 4.

63 To the Senior Investigator of the Department of Internal Affairs, P.Iu. Tepsaeva, Appeal in the Case of P.I. Svoik, November 20, 1998.

64 Human Rights Watch interview with Petr Svoik, Almaty, December 3, 1998.

65 Soroko is printed in Novosibirsk, Russia.

66 Article 18 of the Law on the Media states: "Each issue of a print periodical must contain the following information: (1) the name of the publication; (2) its founder or publisher (uchreditel'); (3) last name and initials of the editor-in-chief; (4) registration number and the name of the agency which issued the registration; (5) schedule of publication (weekly, monthly); (6) the number and date of the issue; (7) periodical index number, for periodicals distributed by mail; (8) print run; (9) price (if the publication is distributed commercially); (10) the publisher; (11) the printing house; (12) the address of the editorial board, publisher and printing house."

67 Human Rights Watch interview with Jumabekir Junusova, editor of Soroko, Karaganda, December 10, 1998.

68 Ibid.

69 Ibid.

70 Human Rights Watch interview with Sharip Kurakbaev, editor-in-chief of Dat, December 13, 1998; Human Rights Watch interview with Saia Isa, journalist, December 4, 1998. The whistle-blower in question, Ermek Tursunov, was arrested by KNB officers on July 3, but released after a public outcry two days later. No charges were ever brought against the officials he alleged to have misappropriated the funds; however, Kazakhstan-1 station officials never refuted the allegations. See Nuri Muftakh, "Golos pravdy prorvetsia; pochemu zakryli gazetu `Dat'?"XXI Vek, December 10, 1998, pp. 1-2.

71 RFE/RL Newsline, October 23, 1998.

72 RFE/RL Newsline, December 3, 1998.

73 Human Rights Watch interview with Bigeldi Gabdullin, editor-in-chief, XXI Vek, December 12, 1998. Only through the state distribution agency is it possible to subscribe to the newspaper for delivery.

74 Fax communication from Kairat Ibraimov, editor of Irtysh (named after the river on which Semipalatinsk, the city in which the paper is based, is situated), October 7, 1998. Reportedly, authorities seized print runs of the newspaper Provintsiia, and blocked distribution of Region iug in mid-October for the same reason. Written statement, Ivan Kurenkov, deputy editor of Tsentr, February 15, 1999.

75 Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir Mikhailov, Washington, January 27, 1999.

76 Human Rights Watch interview with Liudmila Shatalina, editor, Tsentr, Astana, December 8, 1998.

77 Soiuzpechat' was the Soviet-era media distribution monopoly.

78 Human Rights Watch interview with Bigeldi Gabdullin, Almaty, December 12, 1998.

79 Human Rights Watch interviews, anonymous distributors, Almaty, December 5 and 7, 1998. At the request of the interviewees, Human Rights Watch does not reveal their identity.

80 Human Rights Watch interview with Jumabikir Junusova, Karaganda, December 10, 1998.

81 Dat press release, as reported by the KIBHR, November 11, 1998.

82 Written statement by Ivan Kurenkov, deputy editor, Tsentr, February, 1999. Tsentr published two more drastically reduced editions during that period, using privately donated funds and an underground printing press. I. Kurenkov, L. Shatalina, "Za chto `arestovali' Tsentr?," Spetsvypusk Tsentr, November 25, 1998. Human Rights Watch interview, Liudmila Shatalina, editor, Tsentr, December 8, 1998.

83 Human Rights Watch interview, Sharip Kurakbaev, editor-in-chief, Dat, December 13, 1998.

84 Protests by the KIBHR spread the news of the action against Dat quickly. Press release, July 26, 1998.

85 Andrei Sviridov reported several incidents in his late 1998 volume, Scripta manent: napisannoe ostaetsia. In May, the private Almaty television station Shakhar (City) pulled a program off the air after it reported on a tax police raid on a factory owned by the then-proprietor of the news conglomerate Karavan. Reportedly, the tax police issued an unofficial but persuasive warning to the owners of Shakhar that their own businesses would come under intense scrutiny if they did not take more care with their material (p. 166). Later that month the deputy mayor in Taldy-Kurgan responsible for "monitoring of the media" warned all local news organizations not to report on the demonstration of truck drivers protesting the arbitrary actions of the local highway patrol, including alleged extortion practices. After one independent local television station broadcast a report on the demonstration, the deputy mayor called in the head of the station to threaten retaliation (p. 168). The Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation reported that during the presidential election campaign, local government authorities in the southern city of Shymkent insisted on exercising pre-publication censorship, pulling materials from local newspapers, including two private ones; one of the censored articles was an open letter by former prime minister Kazhegeldin. Glasnost Defense Foundation press release, January 25, 1999.

86 Human Rights Watch interview with Rozlana Taukina, president of the Association for Independent Electronic Media in Central Asia (ANESMICA), Almaty, December 2, 1998. The Vienna-based International Press Institute decried the practice of officials visiting independent media offices and warning journalists and editors not to cover the opposition candidates, or to publish negative stories against the president, his policies, or his family. The Institute also reported that according to its sources, officials told one unnamed independent radio station that its stories must be cleared by an "advisor" before being broadcast, and the director of one independent television station told his reporters to consider themselves part of "the president's team." Press release, November 11, 1998, as reported by BBC Monitoring Service, November 17, 1998.

87 Human Rights Watch interview with Valentin Makalin, journalist, Nachnem s Ponedelnika, Moscow, December 4, 1998.

88 Human Rights Watch interview with Rozlana Taukina, president of ANESMICA, Almaty, December 2, 1998.

89 In June 1998, ownership of the Karavan conglomerate changed hands, with observers alleging that the government pressured founder Boris Giller to sell the media wing of the company to figures close to the Nazarbaev family. Sviridov, Scripta manent, p. 171.

90 Human Rights Watch interview, Almaty, December 11, 1998. Tamara Kaleeva is a Kazakh correspondent for the Russia-based press freedom group, the Glasnost Defense Fund, and has reported extensively on human rights issues in the Kazakhstan press.

91 Ibid. The editor who forbade Tamara Kaleeva from publishing in this opposition paper did not cite any contractual exclusivity restriction governing her employment with Kazakhstanskaia pravda; Kaleeva had in the past often submitted articles to other publications.

92 Ibid.

93 Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir Litvinov, Karaganda, December 10, 1998.

94 Ibid.

95 Human Rights Watch interview, KIBHR representative Iurii Gusakov, Karaganda, December 10, 1998.

96 Human Rights Watch interview with Bigeldi Gabdullin, editor-in-chief, XXI Vek, December 12, 1998.

97 RFE/RL Newsline, September 29, 1998.

98 Ibid.

99 Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir Mikhailov, Washington, January 27, 1999.

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