A court in Kazakhstan has banned the outspoken independent newspaper Respublika, amid what critics see as a year-long political crackdown following fatal unrest in the town of Zhanaozen last December that has seen an opposition leader jailed, his party shut down, and media outlets critical of the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev closed.
On December 25 the court ordered Respublika to shut down its print version and all associated print outlets and websites containing the word “Respublika,” Almaty-based media freedom watchdog Adil Soz reported. The ruling was issued four days after a key opposition party, Alga!, was closed.
Respublika – which has long operated under pressure in Kazakhstan, and once had the corpse of a decapitated dog pinned to its wall as an apparent threat – was among around 40 media outlets targeted for closure by prosecutors who allege their coverage of the Zhanaozen unrest was “extremist” and contained calls to overthrow the state. Prosecutors say the outlets are funded by fugitive oligarch and Nazarbayev opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov (who is on the run from British justice in a separate fraud case).
Prosecutors have alleged that, from abroad, Ablyazov funded a bid to stoke social unrest in Zhanaozen and overthrow Nazarbayev, in cahoots with opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, who is serving a jail term over the violence. Kozlov denied the charges, arguing that he and Alga! engaged only in legitimate opposition activity.
Respublika’s shutdown means that around 40 media outlets, including two prominent TV stations – the Stan TV Internet station and K+ satellite TV – and the Vzglyad newspaper, have been closed by Kazakhstan’s courts.
The crackdown has sparked expressions of concern from international watchdogs including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Article 19 and Human Rights Watch.
On December 13 the US mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted its “serious concern [over] recent efforts by the government of Kazakhstan to use the legal system to silence opposition voices and those critical of the government.”
Astana denies any political component to the cases. On December 18 Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov published a commentary on the Registan website defending the government’s response to the Zhanaozen crisis and noting that Astana believes “that our response over the last year shows a growing maturity and underlines our determination to keep learning and improving our country.”