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Editor's detention exposes regime's crushing of dissent in wake of December violence

IFEX members are calling Kazakh editor Igor Vinyavsky's detention
IFEX members are calling Kazakh editor Igor Vinyavsky's detention "politically motivated"

RFE/RL

Igor Vinyavsky, the editor-in-chief of one of the last remaining independent national newspapers in Kazakhstan, has a long history of being a thorn in the side of the Kazakh government. So IFEX members called his detention last month by Kazakhstan's security services "politically motivated." Adil Soz and 28 other IFEX members are rallying together for his release - and to draw attention to the growing trend of silencing those critical of the government in the wake of violent protests in Zhanaozen last December.

Vinyavsky, editor of the weekly "Vzglyad", was indicted on criminal charges of "making public calls through mass media to violently overthrow Kazakhstan's constitutional regime."

Apparently, Kazakhstan's security services say his arrest on 23 January was part of a criminal investigation into incitement of social hatred during events in Zhanaozen. But his indictment was on charges related to leaflets seized nearly two years ago that allegedly call for violent overthrow of the current Kazakh government.

He is currently serving two months of pre-trial detention, and faces jail time of up to seven years if convicted.

Vinyavsky denies the charges brought against him and disputes his alleged involvement in writing, publishing or distributing the leaflet, or in setting up an organised group.

"[The] authorities are using these charges as an attempt to silence him because of his independent paper, and possibly in reprisal for reporting on violent clashes that took place in December 2011," said the 29 members in a letter to Kazakhstan's Prosecutor-General.

Violent clashes between police and civilians in the oil-rich town of Zhanaozen at the site of an ongoing oil workers' strike on 16 December ended with 14 dead and hundreds arrested. Detainees alleged that they were kicked and beaten by police with truncheons, forced to strip naked and trampled underfoot, reports Human Rights Watch.

The government announced a thorough investigation and indicated that four police officers would face charges. Meanwhile, all communications with Zhanaozen were shut down and some websites in Kazakhstan, including Twitter, were blocked for five days following the clashes.

Internet censorship is nothing new in Kazakhstan. "Such indiscriminate blocking of websites or other communications networks is commonplace," said ARTICLE 19, noting that access to 160 websites has been blocked or restricted in the past year.

The authorities have been quick to place blame on outspoken oil workers and opposition activists for organising or instigating the violence, raising concerns about the impartiality of the authorities' investigation.

Plus, on the back of the Zhanaozen clashes, Almaty has brought in other measures to limit free expression, say IFEX members in separate reports.

According to Human Rights Watch, the government is using restrictive freedom of assembly laws to fine and detain organisers of peaceful protests. Last month, following an opposition protest led by the Azat Social Democratic Party that attracted 500 people, three party leaders were sentenced to 15 days in jail for violating the law on public meetings.

In a separate measure, if new parliamentary rules proposed on 1 February get passed, only edited recordings would be available to the media, says ARTICLE 19.

New limits on the free flow of information also extend to Internet cafés. In December, the government adopted rules that require anyone wishing to use a public computer to provide ID. As well, the amount of time a computer is used at an Internet café, as well as the websites visited, will be documented and held for at least six months, reports ARTICLE 19.

Human Rights Watch appealed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to raise urgent human rights concerns with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev at a meeting today (8 February) on bilateral cooperation and energy issues. Germany and Kazakhstan signed a cooperation deal designed to give German firms greater access to raw materials in the resource-rich Central Asian country in exchange for technology and know-how.

According to news reports, while Merkel said she spoke with Nazarbayev about human rights and that she supported the creation of a commission to investigate the clashes, Nazarbayev rejected criticism of his record, saying expectations his country could transform itself into a perfect democracy in a decade or two were far-fetched.

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