A court has ordered the closure of one of Kazakhstan’s last independent media outlets following a legal battle that has been closely observed by freedom of speech campaigners.
The shuttering of the hard-hitting current affairs magazine follows an appeal by an international organization to Kazakhstan’s foreign minister to intervene over the case to protect press freedom.
The court ruling ordering the closure of Adam (Person), which is known for its gutsy reporting and critical take on President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s rule, was handed down on October 22, Kazakhstan’s Adil Soz press freedom watchdog reported.
The ruling followed the magazine’s suspension in August on a linguistic technicality and was made on the same grounds. The court found that when Adam registered with the authorities earlier this year — after the courts had closed a previously existing independent magazine called Adam Bol — it gave its languages of publication as Kazakh and Russian. The magazine in fact only runs in Russian.
Adil Soz deemed the suspension anti-constitutional, since the magazine was under no legal requirement to publish in two languages.
This time, the court ordered the closure not only of the printed magazine but also of an online version and its Facebook page, where Adam’s editorial team had posted material since the suspension.
Adil Soz argued this move was legally suspect since the original suspension order contained no mention of online outlets. Furthermore, it said the latest legal proceedings were illegal as they began before Adam’s three-month suspension had run its course.
Prosecutors filed the closure case on October 8, arguing the magazine had not taken any steps to rectify the findings that led to its suspension.
In its ruling, the court declared the Adam and Adam Bol magazines, the online version and the Facebook page a “single media outlet.” The same legal argument was used in 2012 to justify the mass closure of around 40 independent media outlets, including the prominent Respublika newspaper.
“The court pretended not to notice multiple violations on the part of the prosecutor’s office, and has definitively closed the magazine,” editor Ayan Sharipbayev told the Nakanune.kz website, another of Kazakhstan’s embattled independent media outlets, after the hearing.
After the suspension ruling last month, Sharipbayev told EurasiaNet.org he believed the case against his magazine was “connected to politics.”
Last month Dunja Mijatovic, the media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, made a personal appeal to Erlan Idrissov, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, over “excessive penalties that limit freedom of the media and pluralism of opinion.”
The suspension of Adam and awards of major libel damages against Sharipbayev and, separately, against a journalist from Nakanune.kz “clearly constitute excessive restrictions on freedom of the media and freedom of expression,” Mijatovic said.