Wednesday, September 23, 2009

OSCE and Kazakhstan's independent newspapers

OSCE media freedom representative protests over authorities' actions against one of Kazakhstan's few independent newspapers

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, said today the seizure of all copies of the independent Kazakh weekly Respublika - delovoye obozrenie and the freezing of the paper's accounts ahead of its appeal in a defamation case were "openly hostile towards the free press".

"This is an evident attempt to remove one of the few remaining critical voices in Kazakhstan. The level of intolerance toward the free flow of information and opinion is troubling in light of Kazakhstan's forthcoming OSCE Chairmanship in 2010," Haraszti said.

The 18 September confiscation came before the appeal deadline against the ruling of the Medeu district court. The original ruling of 9 September held that the owner of the newspaper, the publisher and the editor-in-chief must pay 60 million tenge (approximately 280,000 euros) as compensation for "moral damages". The article in question covered the state's involvement in the rescuing of BTA bank. It offered a platform for public discussion on the future of the bank.

"This defamation case is openly hostile towards the free press and is once again a pretext to target the independent media in Kazakhstan," Haraszti said.

Respublika has endured a history of pressure by the authorities, including raids on its premises and instances of blocking and filtering of the newspaper's online version, he noted.

On 15 September, before the seizure of the paper by the authorities, Haraszti wrote to Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev to protest the court's decision against Respublika.

"The measure is disproportionate and against international guidelines on reconciling protection of reputation and protection of freedom of discussion of public issues," he wrote to the Minister.

Instances of excessive fines for alleged defamation have become recurrent in Kazakhstan, added Haraszti. On 26 February, an Almaty court ruled that the newspaper Taszhargan had to pay compensation of 160,000 euros for allegedly defaming a Member of Parliament. As a result the paper had to close down.

OSCE, Press Release: Vienna, 22 September 2009

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