Freedom House Condemns Conviction of Kazakhstani Journalist
Freedom House denounces a Kazakhstani court decision to sentence the owner and chief editor of Alma-Ata Info newspaper to three years in prison and calls for the country's appeals court to overturn his conviction and release him immediately.
The court sentenced Ramazan Yesergepov on Saturday for revealing state secrets—a charge he denies—in an article titled, "Who Rules the Country: the President or the Kazakh National Security Committee?" Authorities seized Yesergepov from a hospital where he was being treated for hypertension in January, closed his trial to the public and forced his defense lawyer to resign from the case.
"The shameful conduct of Ramazan Yesergepov's trial is not befitting of a country that will assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe next year," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "This conviction not only violates Mr. Yesergepov's right to free speech as enshrined in the Kazakhstani constitution, but also the principles and mission of the OSCE."
Yesergepov is the latest target of an escalating government crackdown on independent media in Kazakhstan. Fourteen criminal cases have been brought against journalists and media outlets so far in 2009. In addition, some 70 civil complaints have been filed against journalists, 29 of them by government officials. Three media outlets have been suspended or closed.
"The Yesergepov case is an example of how far the Kazakhstani government has strayed from its promise to liberalize the media environment before becoming OSCE chairman,” said Jeffrey Goldstein, Freedom House senior program manager for Central Asia. “But it is not too late for the government to reverse this disturbing trend and carry out the reforms it promised. A good first step would be to release and drop charges against all journalists who are currently under investigation or are serving prison time."
Kazakhstan is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Kazakhstan since 1991.
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