The outspoken Respublika newspaper has lost an appeal against a publishing ban.
On February 8, a judge in Almaty upheld a December ruling that Respublika and all print editions and websites associated with it would be closed down, the newspaper reported in an article posted on a Facebook page where it continues placing material.
The closure aimed to “introduce censorship, which in Kazakhstan is banned under the Constitution and the law on the media,” Tatyana Trubacheva, the newspaper’s former editor, argued in court.
She was speaking the day after being fined by an Almaty court for publishing another newspaper, Ripablik, which staff from the newspaper have been putting out with a circulation of just 99 copies to circumvent registration requirements.
The court found Trubacheva guilty of infringing the publishing ban, though she argued that Ripablik was a new outlet that did not exist when the original ban was imposed on December 25. Respublika has long played a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities, changing its name to get around legal bans.
Trubacheva is listed as the Ripablik newspaper’s “reader in chief,” a tactic to prevent her from being accused of being the editor. That led to a surreal exchange with the judge during her trial, shown in a video posted on YouTube by the Koz Ashu (Open the Eye) video project.
“What link do you have to this paper?” the judge asked.
“I read it,” replied Trubacheva. “I have the right to read the paper.”
“Why is it precisely your name that is mentioned [as ‘reader in chief’]?” asked the judge.
“Because I read it,” replied Trubacheva.
“I read it too, but my name’s not there!” responded the irritated judge.
Trubacheva was found guilty and fined the equivalent of $230.
Approximately 40 independent media outlets were closed at the end of 2012, including Respublika and the outspoken Vzglyad newspaper, whose appeal also failed on February 8.
Prosecutors alleged the outlets’ coverage of fatal unrest in Zhanaozen in 2011 was “extremist” and contained calls to overthrow the state. They said the outlets were funded by fugitive oligarch and Nazarbayev opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov (who is on the run from English justice in a separate fraud case), who the Kazakh authorities accused of funding a bid to stoke unrest in Zhanaozen and overthrow Nazarbayev, in cahoots with opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, who is serving a jail term over the violence. Kozlov’s party, Alga!, has also been closed down.
Critics, including the US government, have said the closures amount to a bid to muzzle dissent in Kazakhstan.
On February 6, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists urged Astana to “cease harassing the staff of embattled independent newspaper Respublika” and to “abide by their public commitment to press freedom.”