Despite president’s promises, reporters unable to cover Kazakh elections freely

After more than ten cases of reporters being obstructed while trying to cover last weekend’s parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the country’s president to end such obstacles to reporting freedom.

The victims included Janna Baytelova, a reporter who is also RSF’s correspondent in Kazakhstan. She was convicted of conducting an illegal opinion poll on the eve of the elections because she asked people on the street whether they planned to vote. Three days after the video report of her interviews was published by the independent media outlet Respublika on 20 March, a court fined her a sum equivalent to 102 euros. She plans to appeal.

“The use of such methods to prevent journalists from covering the elections properly shows that the ‘New Kazakhstan’ promised by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is struggling to emerge,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We urge the president to keep his promises by taking concrete steps to protect press freedom or else he could lose all credibility.”

Tamara Eslyamova, the editor of the weekly Uralskaya Nedelya, was also subjected to a legally baseless charge of conducting an illegal opinion poll. 

Adil Soz, an organisation that defends freedom of expression, created a hotline for journalists during the elections and reported nine other cases of obstruction, ranging from refusals to provide basic information – such as the number of voters or how their voted – to bans on filming voting station officials.

Such obstacles are illegal and prevent the full and transparent media coverage that would help establish a bond of trust between citizens and their institutions, the organisation said in a press release.

The 19 March elections, held just over a year after the bloody outcome to the January 2022 riots, were supposed to confirm the democratic renewal that President Tokayev had been promising for months. Nonetheless, like the harassment of reporters, many observers denounced irregularities that benefitted candidates backed by the president.

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