Wednesday, 28 January 2004

HARASSED JOURNALISTS IN KAZAKHSTAN GET OPPOSITION BACKING

Published in Field Reports

By Marat Yermukanov (1/28/2004 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Last year, the highly-rated “Vremya” newspaper ran a series of articles shedding light on the roots of corruption and large-scale embezzlement among the top echelons of power. One of these criticisms touched on the raw the director of the “Republican Innovation Foundation” (RIF) Asgat Zhabagin, who served as deputy prime minister in the years 1993-1994 and then as a Minister of Energy Resources. The journalist alleged that US$1.
Last year, the highly-rated “Vremya” newspaper ran a series of articles shedding light on the roots of corruption and large-scale embezzlement among the top echelons of power. One of these criticisms touched on the raw the director of the “Republican Innovation Foundation” (RIF) Asgat Zhabagin, who served as deputy prime minister in the years 1993-1994 and then as a Minister of Energy Resources. The journalist alleged that US$1.5 million (an astronomical sum by Kazakhstan’s scale), allocated to the Defense Ministry to pay off long-standing debts to Russian and Ukrainian military industry, was by some intricate way diverted to the accounts of the “RIF”.

Asgat Zhabagin did not wait long to sue the journalist for allegedly damaging his reputation. But neither he nor his lawyer Vitaly Ginsburg could refute the well-documented facts contained in the article. More than that, in the course of further debates Vitaly Ginsburg admitted that the money intended as a payment for jet fighters delivered from Ukraine and Russia was actually used by middlemen “to finance political campaigns”. This revelation added oil to fire. Apparently there were more influential figures pulling strings behind Zhabagin. The President of the country himself demanded from the Prosecutor General’s Office that the investigation into the case be completed within a month. Since there was nothing substantial to use as an indictment against Benditsky, the Prosecutor General’s Office asked for an additional month. If proven guilty, the journalist may be sentenced up to three years of prison terms.

But given the increasing protests from the opposition about the harassment of journalists, the court is unlikely to send Gennady Benditsky to prison. The “Ak Zhol” Democratic Party leaders launched an appeal to all democratic forces of Kazakhstan to rally for the defense of Gennady Benditsky. Leading opposition parties and human rights organizations set up a Public Committee to protect the “Vremya” journalist. Speaking at the session of the Committee on January 20, its chairman Bolat Abilov said that the principal issue on the agenda was not so much the case of Benditsky or that of “Vremya” as the fate of democracy. He went on further to say that “this case can be considered as an attempt of deep-rooted corporate corruption to strangle the freedom of the press”. Committee members also appealed to the Russian Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights and the Ukrainian “Nasha Ukraina” movement. To give more public weight to its actions, the Committee is planning to stage a demonstration in Almaty on February 6 demanding a fair court decision in the Benditsky case.

Since the beginning of the year, political parties and non-government organizations in Kazakhstan have noticeably stepped up their drives for the defense of journalists. On January 15, amid outcries from the opposition field, another unruly journalist, Sergey Duvanov, jailed last year for allegedly raping a teenage girl, was released from his confinement in a penal colony to be transferred to a settlement with better conditions. He served one third of his prison terms. Yevgeny Zhovtis, the director of the Kazakhstan Bureau of International Human Rights Organization, expressed serious concern about health conditions of Sergey Duvanov. He said that clinics refused to hospitalize Duvanov. “We always regarded our penitentiary system as one of the most rapidly developing institutions in our country, more or less conforming to international standards, but now these processes cause more alarm” said Yevgeny Zhovtis. He hopes Duvanov will soon resume his work at the Human Rights Bureau, but before that the journalist must undergo a medical examination and treatment.

Last year, Sergey Duvanov, alongside with outspoken opposition figures Mukhtar Ablyazov and Galimzhan Zhakyanov, was the winner of the annual “Liberty” prize. This year the prize went to human rights activist Baltash Tursumbayev, former editor of the “Soz” paper and Yermurat Bapi (both currently in exile), former editor of the “Vesti Pavlodara” Igor Vinyavski and Gennady Benditsky.

With parliamentary elections just around the corner, some political forces are clearly trying to make a political windfall from the harassment and persecution of journalists by power-wielding despots. This drive may strengthen the position of the opposition. Authorities, on the other hand, pressed for genuine political reform by international human rights organizations and not used to other methods of dealing with the opposition other than ruling with iron fists, seem to be entangled in problems of their own making. Actions of the opposition were partly provoked by a highly controversial draft of the media law, restricting further the rights of journalists, recently approved by a pliant parliament.

Read 4141 times

Visit also

silkroad

AFPC

isdp

turkeyanalyst

Staff Publications

Screen Shot 2023-05-08 at 10.32.15 AMSilk Road Paper S. Frederick Starr, U.S. Policy in Central Asia through Central Asian Eyes, May 2023.


Analysis Svante E. Cornell, "Promise and Peril in the Caucasus," AFPC Insights, March 30, 2023.

Oped S. Frederick Starr, Putin's War In Ukraine and the Crimean War), 19fourtyfive, January 2, 2023

Oped S. Frederick Starr, Russia Needs Its Own Charles de Gaulle,  Foreign Policy, July 21, 2022.

2206-StarrSilk Road Paper S. Frederick Starr, Rethinking Greater Central Asia: American and Western Stakes in the Region and How to Advance Them, June 2022 

Oped Svante E. Cornell & Albert Barro, With referendum, Kazakh President pushes for reforms, Euractiv, June 3, 2022.

Oped Svante E. Cornell Russia's Southern Neighbors Take a Stand, The Hill, May 6, 2022.

Silk Road Paper Johan Engvall, Between Bandits and Bureaucrats: 30 Years of Parliamentary Development in Kyrgyzstan, January 2022.  

Oped Svante E. Cornell, No, The War in Ukraine is not about NATO, The Hill, March 9, 2022.

Analysis Svante E. Cornell, Kazakhstan’s Crisis Calls for a Central Asia Policy Reboot, The National Interest, January 34, 2022.

StronguniquecoverBook S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, Strong and Unique: Three Decades of U.S.-Kazakhstan Partnership, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, December 2021.  

Silk Road Paper Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr & Albert Barro, Political and Economic Reforms in Kazakhstan Under President Tokayev, November 2021.

The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

Newsletter

Sign up for upcoming events, latest news and articles from the CACI Analyst

Newsletter