The lawyer for a prominent journalist arrested last year on charges of fraud said on January 11 that his client had admitted his guilt and returned funds he is accused of earning through intimidation.
Bigeldi Gabdullin, the 61-year old chief editor of the Central Asia Monitor newspaper and the executive director of Radiotochka.kz news website, was detained in mid-November on what authorities said was suspicion of using media under his control to intimidate officials into paying him money to avoid negative coverage.
The officials targeted in this scheme allegedly lobbied for Gabdullin to receive government contracts through a system of media subsidies known as the state order. The objects of the claimed blackmail operation later had positive articles about them appear in the media, investigators claimed at the time of Gabdullin’s arrest.
Gabdullin’s lawyer, Amanzhol Muhadmedyarov, said at a pre-trial court hearing on January 11 that his client was cooperating with the investigation and helping to clarify the circumstances of his alleged crime. The journalist has compensated the injured parties to tune of 20.6 million tenge ($62,000) and pleaded to be spared prosecution in exchange for repenting for his offense, Muhadmedyarov said.
One of the people allegedly targeted for extortion by Gabdullin spoke in court to confirm that he had received the compensation and said he wished to drop charges.
This marks a curious turn of events in a case that had initially been held up as further evidence of Kazakhstan’s ongoing assault of media freedoms. PEN, a US-based group advocating for freedom of expression, among others had described the charges leveled at Gabdullin as suspicious and possible reprisal for the support he had lent another well-known journalist also jailed on fraud charges.
Muhadmedyarov appealed for clemency, citing his client’s clean criminal record and the fact that his wife is ill and responsible for taking care of two very young children. Prosecutors dismissed those appeals and demanded the case go trial as the offense in question was a serious one and deserved hearing.