Kazakh journalists harassed over Covid-19 reporting
Update : The journalist Zaure Mirzakhodjayeva was informed on May 30 that the charges against her were dropped in the criminal case for spreading false information. But she may still be interrogated as a witness.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an end to the harassment of journalists covering the Covid-19 epidemic in Kazakhstan, where they have been subjected to interrogation, prosecution and violation of the confidentiality of their sources in connection with their reporting.
The victims include Zaure Mirzakhodjayeva, a journalist and blogger in the southern city of Shymkent, who was summoned and questioned by the police for seven hours on 23 April over a Facebook post and is now being formally investigated under article 274 of the Criminal Code for spreading false information.
Kazakh media have been subjected to judicial harassment ever since a state of emergency was declared on 16 March. The authorities are monitoring social media and media outlets closely for what they regard as excessive criticism of the government’s handling of the health crisis.
On 23 March, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called on the intelligence services, the public prosecutor’s office and the information ministry to "pay close attention to the dissemination of rumours and provocative reports" in order to "identify and punish" those responsible.
"On the pretext of avoiding panic, the authorities are harassing journalists and bloggers who stray from the official line on the epidemic," said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. "This exploitation of the state of emergency is harming press freedom in Kazakhstan. It must stop."
KTK TV reporter Beken Alirakhimov and cameraman Manas Sharipov were arrested while covering the working conditions in a hospital in the western city of Atyrau on 11 April and were charged under article 476 of the Administrative Code with violating the state of emergency.
They got off with a warning at their trial on 24 April after being placed in quarantine for two weeks at the hospital although the law allows them to continue working during the epidemic. Journalists with other media outlets have also been harassed but they did not want to be identified.
Kazakhstan is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.