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Prospects for free and fair presidential elections in Kazakhstan in December are waning amid moves by authorities to quash freedom of expression and silence independent media and civil society groups, warns Human Rights Watch.

In a letter to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, the IFEX member has expressed concern about "abusive government measures" targeting independent media and civil society groups.

Drastic measures are being taken against the country's independent media, the organisation says.

On 26 September, the Vremya printing house unexpectedly cancelled its contracts with seven newspapers - "Soz" ("Voice"), "Svoboda Slova" ("Freedom of Speech"), "Epokha" ("Epoch"), "Pravda Kazakhstana" ("Truth of Kazakhstan"), (""), "Azat" ("Liberation") and "Zhuma Tayms" ("Friday Times"). No explanation was given for the cancellations.

Other printing houses in the capital, Almaty, refused to print the publications. After the newspapers' editors went on a hunger strike for a week, the Daur publishing house agreed to publish five of the papers. With virtually all of Kazakhstan's broadcast media owned by companies closely associated with the government, newspapers are a vital source of alternative information for citizens.

Independent media are also being targeted in several politically-motivated government lawsuits accusing journalists of insulting officials' "honor and dignity," says Human Rights Watch. At least four newspapers, including "Respublika", "Set'Kz", "Soz" and "Zhuma Tayms Data Nedeli", are facing legal action for publishing comments critical of senior government officials.

Meanwhile, new national security laws place unreasonable limits on free expression, says Human Rights Watch. Amendments to the country's "Law on Mass Media" contain what appears to be deliberately vague language that leaves the law open to abuse for political purposes.

Article 2-4 states that media outlets can be shut down for "violat[ing] Kazakhstan's integrity," condoning "extremism," and "undermining state security." This provision could be used to bar coverage of the political opposition or to prevent journalists from exposing crimes committed by government officials, argues Human Rights Watch.

Media outlets that publish on the Internet have also come under government pressure. In recent months, access to websites critical of Nazarbaev and his policies have been blocked. The sites include Navigator (, Evrazia and Kub.

Independent journalists and media outlets are not the only targets of government pressure. More than 30 civil society groups, including Adil Soz (International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech), have been subjected to tax investigations and accused of passing Western aid money to political opposition parties, notes Human Rights Watch.

Foreign organisations, including the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), the Eurasia Foundation, Internews and Soros Foundation Kazakhstan have been subjected to audits of their financial records going back several years.

In the wake of democratic revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in recent years, these efforts to silence dissent ahead of the 2 December elections appear to indicate the government's nervousness about the potential for a similar revolt in Kazakhstan.

For updates on freedom of expression in Kazakhstan, visit:
Visit these links:

- Human Rights Watch:
- Adil Soz:
- Committee to Protect Journalists:
- Freedom House Report:
- Reporters Without Borders:
- EurasiaNet:
- Radio Free Europe:

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