Сөз бостандығын қорғау халықаралық қоры
Международный фонд защиты свободы слова
The International Foundation for Freedom of Speech Protection

Violations of freedom of speech in Kazakhstan September 2023

20 october 2023

The International Foundation for Freedom of Speech Protection «Adil Soz» presents an overview of events reflecting the situation in Kazakhstan with freedom of expression, receipt, and dissemination of information in September 2023.

From 2019 to the present, Adil Soz has recorded 75 cases of obstruction of a journalist's work with the use of force and attacks on media representatives during the performance of their professional duties.  In 16 cases, journalists appealed to the police with a demand to bring the perpetrators to justice under Article 158 of the Penal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 

However, cases on the statements of journalists under Article 158 of the Penal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (Interfering with legal professional activity of journalist) are carried out for a very long time, sometimes for several years, investigations are often closed, then reopened at the protest of lawyers or the prosecutor's office, the article of the Penal Code is reclassified to others. 

Adil Soz is aware of only two cases that have reached court in the last five years. 

In April 2019, a court in Kokshetau terminated proceedings related to an attack on the filming crew of the «KTK» television channel due to reconciliation between the parties through mediation. The defendant pleaded guilty.
In February of this year, a guilty verdict was handed down to the head of security at the «Dostyk Mall» shopping center in Petropavlovsk. In August 2021, he had given orders to remove the filming crew of  «Khabar 24» from the shopping center. 

On September 8th of this month, the police in Shakhtinsk informed the lawyer of MIA KazTAG correspondent Diana Saparkyzy that her complaint, related to an attack by security personnel at ArcelorMittal Temirtau, pre-trial investigation will be conducted under Article 158 of the Penal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (Interfering with legal professional activity of journalist).

The journalist filed a statement with the police on August 18, the day when, while she was covering the consequences at the Kazakhstanskaya mine, one of the guards took the phone from the journalist and deleted the video, while the second one was holding Diana.

The Shakhtinsk city police, to which the journalist's complaint was territorially submitted, in August, only drafted a report on an administrative offense against one security guard member under the article of  «Intentional infliction of non-grave harm to health».

The journalist claimed that the investigation into her complaint was «dragging on» and the «Adil Soz» Foundation addressed an open appeal to the Prosecutor General Berik Asylov, demanding a thorough investigation into the attack on Diana Saparkyzy. The human rights organization, the «Committee to Protect Journalists» also voiced its support for Diana's case. 

Also in September:

  • The Government has decided to hold weekly meetings in an online format.

Journalists learned about this when they arrived for the government's weekly meeting. They were informed that now not all ministers would attend these meetings, but only those whose issues are on the agenda. The rest of the government members will participate online, as they did during the pandemic.

«After the conclusion of the meeting, the ministers will hold briefings to answer all your (journalists - KazTAG) questions. Additionally, to ensure communication with the public and journalists, a schedule has been established in which all government members and ministers will conduct briefings on their respective platforms. This is the government's decision», said Kanat Kulshmanov, the head of the government's press service.

Journalists are dissatisfied with this decision because this format not only deprives the media of the opportunity to ask questions to the ministers but also raises concerns that briefings may drag on for several hours due to the ministers having to read their reports in the government and the backlog of questions.

In response to this, the head of the government's press service explained that a schedule will be prepared, according to which 3-5-6 ministers will be required to hold weekly briefings on their respective platforms.
On September 15th, the schedule for government members to conduct briefings was published on the Prime Minister's website.

  • The State Revenue Committee of the Ministry of Finance has published a «Register of persons receiving money or Other Property from Foreign states, International and Foreign Organizations, foreigners, stateless persons subject to publication». 

The list includes 240 legal entities and individuals. In addition to the name of the organization and the BIN (Business Identification Number), the full name of the person and the IIN (Individual Identification Number) are also indicated in it. The IIN in Kazakhstan is classified as personal data of limited access.

The publication of the register is dictated by the requirements of Article 29 of the Tax Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan and is aimed at «increasing the level of trust of citizens in both the state and non-governmental organizations». The article does not apply, among other things, to state institutions, state persons, subjects of the quasi-public sector.

«According to Article 30 of the Tax Code, information about the taxpayer's identification number and their name is not considered tax secrecy», as stated in the commentary by the State Revenue Committe.

The list includes not only NGOs, public funds, organizations, and human rights activists but also journalists and bloggers. 
The international organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), believes that the inclusion of the names of journalists, media outlets, and human rights organizations in this list resembles the practice of «foreign agents» observed in Russia in recent years.

In turn, the Minister of Culture and Information, Aida Balaeva, advised against drawing any analogies with the law on foreign agents, «since there simply isn't one, as this is purely about tax contributions».

US Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Daniel Rosenblum, shared his opinion on the published register of individuals and organizations receiving foreign funding by the State Revenue Committee in a meeting with journalists in Astana. 

«Some people have drawn parallels between this list and laws in other countries about so-called «foreign agents». I understand why people make such comparisons, but I would like to say that at the moment, these are different things. As I understand it, being on this Kazakhstani list does not imply any legal consequences for organizations and individuals listed, and it does not impact their daily work», said Mr. Daniel Rosenblum.

  • The draft law «On Public Oversight» and the accompanying bill «On Amendments and Additions to Some Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Issues of Public Oversight and Improvement of Administrative Procedures» have been approved by the Senate of the Parliament.

«In accordance with the provisions of the documents, an additional mechanism of public participation in the country's life has been introduced - the institution of petitions. According to Maulen Ashimbaev, the Speaker of the Senate of the Parliament, the legitimacy of petitions will allow citizens to convey their needs and initiatives to the authorized authorities», as stated in the Senate of the Parliament's announcement.
The subject of a petition can be any issue that complies with the legislation.

  • The trial on the case of attacks on journalists will be held in the juvenile court in closed mode. The judge issued such a ruling on September 20 in connection with petitions from some of the injured journalists to hold closed meetings on episodes related to their minor children.

To recap, from September 2022 to February of this year, independent journalists and media outlets were subjected to threats, physical assaults, DDoS attacks, and telephone harassment. 

Attacks were carried out on the editorial offices of Orda.kz and Elmedia.kz, journalists Gulnar Bazhkenova (Orda.kz), Gulzhan Yergalieva (ElMedia), Vadim Boreyko («Hyperborei), Samal Ibraeva (Ulysmedia.kz), Dinara Egeubayeva (Dinarion), and cameraman Roman Egorov («Hyperborei»). Unknown individuals set their cars on fire, sealed the entrance doors with foam, shared their personal information online, smashed windows in the building where the editorial office is located.

On February 28th, the police reported the detention of the coordinator behind the attacks on journalists, Oleksiy Tokarev, and on March 2nd, they announced the identification of his accomplices. On March 4th, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported the arrest of the instigator and organizer of the attacks on journalists, Arkadiy Klebanov (Manevich). According to the police, he had personal grievances against several media outlets and journalists and organized the attacks «for personal reasons».

Initially, the legal proceedings related to the attacks on journalists began in closed sessions due to the presence of teenagers among the accused. However, on the same day, September 14th, following a motion by the lawyer V. Boreyko and D. Egeubaeva, the judge decided to conduct the proceedings in an open session, allowing for photo and video recording as well as audio recording.

Subsequently , the chief editor of Orda.kz Gulnar Bazhkenova petitioned for holding closed meetings on her episodes related to her minor son. For similar reasons, Samal Ibraeva also filed a petition for a closed court. Another statement on holding closed meetings was received from Gulzhan Yergalieva. 

On September 20, Judge S. Kenesova declared the trial closed. 
«Our request to «close» only those court sessions where their testimony would be heard was not taken into account. The judge granted the petitions of three journalists and asked the journalist Rodionov, who was present, to leave. The remaining victims, Dinara Egeubayeva, Roman Egorov and I, are now deprived of the opportunity to make public even our own testimony», wrote Vadim Boreyko in Telegram.

  • The Supreme Court refused the chief editor  of  «S-Inform» Amangeldy Batyrbekov to review in cassation the judicial acts according to which the journalist was found guilty of libel.

Recall that on July 3, Amangeldy Batyrbekov was arrested for 20 days for committing an administrative offense «Slander». The initiator of the process, deputy of the Majilis of the Parliament Bolatbek Nazhmetdinuly, claims: the journalist deliberately spread false information about him, writing that several years ago B. Nazhmetdinuly was a suspect in a criminal case on fraud, while he was in the status of a witness with the right to defense.

Amangeldy Batyrbekov did not admit guilt. He stated that the information in question is not false and is supported by documents from a criminal case with the investigator's signature from the Shymkent City Police Department.

The court concluded that the chief editor, without verifying the accuracy of the information, disseminated false information that defamed B. Nazhmetdinuly. The appellate panel of the Turkestan Regional Court agreed with the district court's decision.

Adil Soz believes that the court did not take into account an important violation - the lack of evidence of deliberate dissemination of false information. The Supreme Court believes that the courts thoroughly examined the circumstances of the case and provided a comprehensive assessment of the arguments and evidence.

In September 2023, a total of 34 reports of incidents related to the professional activities of the media and journalists, the receipt and dissemination of information were registered (excluding reports related to ongoing cases):

  • 8 reports were related to violations of journalists' rights.
  • 17 reports concerned the right to access and disseminate information.
  • 9 cases of presentation of judicial and pre-trial claims to journalists and editorial offices in connection with publications.

In September 2023, in connection with the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, the following have been filed:

  • 3 pre-judicial claim and 4 civil lawsuit (including 6 related to protection of honor, dignity, and business reputation).
  • 2 administrative charges.

Since the beginning of the year, in connection with the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, the following have been filed:

  • 7 criminal charges (including 2 in court). 
  • 47 civil claims and lawsuits (including 39 for the protection of honor, dignity, and business reputation). The claimed amounts of compensation for moral damage in cases of honor and dignity protection amount to 17 million 600 thousand tenge. The courts recovered 300 thousand tenge.
  • 17 administrative charges, including 9 for defamation.

The monitoring was prepared according to reports to correspondents of the «Adil Soz» Foundation and information from open sources.

Head of the Monitoring Service of the «Adil Soz» Foundation - Elena Tsoy
Email: lena@adilsoz.kz

For all monitoring-related inquiries, you can also contact: info@adilsoz.kz 

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