Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kazakhstan: Prominent journalist stabbed and shot in suspicious circumstances

Astana, 23.4.12: Uralskaya nedelya journalist, Lukpan Akhmedyarov was attacked by a group of three men on the night of April 19-20 near the porch of his house. Akhmedyarov is known for his criticism of the government and participation in protests.

“This vicious attack on a prominent journalist like Lukpan Akhmediyarov is a severe blow to the Kazak journalistic community. It proves once more the vulnerability of those who dare to express their opinions publicly in Kazakhstan,” said Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

“Unless those responsible are brought to justice, this attack will add to the already existing climate of fear persistent in Kazakhstan. Impunity for such attacks increases the vulnerability of those members of the journalistic community speaking out, and without adequate protection mechanisms in place, are left fending for themselves,” she added.

Akhmedyarov was stabbed eight times near his heart and shot twice. He has undergone a three-hour operation and his condition remains serious. The Interior Department in Western Kazakhstan is looking for three ‘Asian-looking’ people, described as wearing sportswear. The interior department has begun an investigation into the attack which has been labeled as an "intention to attempt homicide" and called on the public to help them identify the attackers in return for a reward.

Akhmedyarov’s colleagues believe the attack was related to his public and professional activities. In recent days, Akhmedyarov has reported that he and his family have been subjected to pressure and threats. The local media cited the chief editor of Uralskaya nedelya, Tamara Yeslyamov, as saying, “Two days ago one of the managers of the company where his [Akhmedyarov’s] wife is working called her to his office and demanded that her husband stop organising gatherings, saying that KNB (the National Security Committee) officers come to talk to him about this.”

“All information concerning his professional and private life, as well as his civic activism permits us to conclude that this attack was done in revenge for his critical publications against the authorities and corrupt big business,” said Tamara Kaleyeva, president of the local press freedom group Adil Soz.

Akhmedyarov opposes the current government both in his reporting and his active civic stance. He was one of the organisers of the 24 March gathering called “the Day of those who are against” dedicated to the 100 days’ anniversary of the riots that took place in Zhanaozen in which the government were accused of killing at least 17 people.

In January, Akhmedyarov gathered along with dozens of other people in front of the building of Akimat (local administration) in Uralsk. The participants protested against the referendum proposed to legitimise the extension of President Nazarbayev’s term of office. Together with other protesters, he was taken to the local Interior Department. After facing administrative charges, Akhmedyarov was fined KZT 15 thousand (approx. USD 100) and detained for five days.

ARTICLE 19 joins with national press freedom groups in calling upon the Kazakh Office of the Prosecutor General to ensure an independent, transparent, and thorough an investigation. Each year, ARTICLE 19 partner organisation in Kazakhstan, Adil Soz, registers dozens of attacks on journalists. “We register many cases in which journalists face threats to life and health, as well as actual attacks. These are all deeds which need to be punished criminally. Other than the recent case of the attack on Stan TV, however, we have not seen any others that have been fully investigated and brought to court,” said Ganna Krasilnikova, Adil Soz legal officer.

On Friday, Adil Soz and the Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan held an urgent press conference concerning the attack. Following the press conference, journalists from various media outlets gathered in front of the press club building and held up placards to express their solidarity with Akhmedyarov. Next day, a member of Adil Soz staff received a call from an unknown man, claiming to be a police officer. The caller warned the staff member that she will face administrative detention for a period of up to 15 days for participating in an unsanctioned gathering. No further calls were received so far.

Uralskaya nedelya is one of the few independent newspapers operating in Kazakhstan (www.uralskweek.kz). During the time that it has been in operation, it has repeatedly faced lawsuits for reporting public interest stories about the local authorities

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