The chief editor of a leading news website in Kazakhstan has announced that he has left the country out of concern that he may be targeted for prosecution.
Bekzhan Idrisov, who edits Radiotochka.kz, made the announcement on his Facebook page on December 26. The publisher of his website and editor of Central Asia Monitor newspaper, Bigeldy Gabdullin, was detained by the authorities in mid-November on suspicion of committing fraud.
Stories of reporters feeling compelled to flee Kazakhstan are a stark reminder of the problems face by independent media in the country as they negotiate financial constraints and pressure from the government to refrain from critical coverage.
“I have left Kazakhstan. Forever is my hope… I want to explain this to my colleagues at Radiotochka.kz. I know that I have vanished suddenly and at an inconvenient time for you. But you know there is no convenient time for such things. Either I end up in jail next to Gabdullin or I give evidence against him,” Idrisov wrote.
Idrisov suggested that a feature on his website — Who Owns KZ — has caused particular umbrage in Astana. The section draws on open sources to document the tax payments and property ownership of government officials, businessmen and other public figures.
Idrisov has declined to reveal his current location over security concerns and said that his sources have informed him he has been placed on a wanted list.
Idrisov said he left the country three weeks ago, while his family members joined him on December 25. He has not been working at Radiotochka since the beginning of December, according to an official statement from Yevgenia Sazonova, acting chief editor at Radiotochka.
Radiotochka has said that Idrisov’s sudden departure has created uncertainty, but that work will proceed as normal in the meantime.
“We don’t yet know what will happen next year, but we will work through to the end of this year.,” Sazonova told RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq.