Kazakhstan | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

78

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

30

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

22

While Kazakhstan’s media environment displayed familiar obstacles to independent reporting in the form of legal restrictions, self-censorship, and harassment in 2007, political events underscored the overwhelming extent of partisan ownership and presidential influence. The country’s constitution guarantees freedom of the press but also provides special protection for the president. The restrictive 2006 amendments to media legislation remained in force, imposing costly registration fees for journalists, broadening criteria for the denial of registration, requiring news outlets to submit the names of editors with registration applications, and necessitating reregistration in the event of a change of address or editor. Although a more liberal draft Media Law was introduced to Parliament in April, it had not made progress by year’s end. August parliamentary elections that produced an opposition-free legislature took place amid biased media coverage, international observers noted.

Journalists continued to encounter harassment and obstacles, including criminal charges and civil libel suits. Kaziz Toguzbayev, a journalist and activist in the unregistered opposition party Alga, received a two-year suspended sentence for allegedly “undermining the reputation and dignity of the country’s president and hindering his activities” in articles published on the internet in 2006. An Astana court closed the independent newspaper Zakon i Pravosudiye (ironically, Law and Justice) in February for registration violations. Oralgaisha Omarshanova, an investigative reporter for Zakon i Pravosudiye who had written about ethnic clashes and dangerous conditions in mines, went missing in March and had not been found by year’s end. The nongovernmental organization Adil Soz reported 144 incidents of harassment in the first 11 months of 2007. Outlets that were willing to criticize the president also faced frequent intimidation. In October and November, the opposition newspapers Svoboda Slova, Tas Zhagan, Respublika, and Vzglyad faced tax and regulatory investigations and difficulties with their publishers in connection with their coverage of allegations by Rakhat Aliyev, former son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, that linked the president to the 2006 killing of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev.

Major broadcast media remained either state run or controlled by members or associates of the president’s family. Aliyev’s fall from grace illustrated the negative consequences of partisan ownership in a system with virtually nonexistent checks and balances. When Aliyev faced criminal charges over a bank takeover in early 2007, media he controlled leapt to his defense. In May, a court shut down two of his holdings, the television station KTK and the newspaper Karavan, based on a selective application of the country’s Law on Language. With Aliyev exiled in Austria, the two outlets were allowed to reopen in August under new management and with a different focus in their coverage. Repercussions from the Aliyev case continued to affect the media even after the president’s daughter divorced the errant son-in-law, now stripped of his media assets.

The internet, which had provided a refuge of sorts for Kazakhstan’s beleaguered independent press, was increasingly a source of contestation amid more frequent reports of blocked websites. In October, the opposition websites zona.kz, kub.kz, geo.kz, and inkar.info were blocked in connection with audio recordings in which high-ranking officials apparently discussed illegal campaign finance tactics. Although three of the websites were unblocked after their representatives met with Culture and Information Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbayev in November, the minister reportedly pressured editors and suggested that internet content providers should face “criminal punishment” for certain materials. In August, Nurlan Alimbekov was arrested for e-mails allegedly insulting the president and inciting ethnic hatred; the country’s security service argued that the e-mails violated media legislation because they were sent to multiple addresses. Nevertheless, the internet was freer than print and other broadcast media, although even the most optimistic estimates put the proportion of internet users in the country at less than 10 percent of the population.