Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns press freedom violations by police in recent days in Kazakhstan, where reporters were prevented from covering a day of protest called by a banned opposition party on 22 February, especially in the northwestern city of Oral.
Two journalists were arrested in Oral and at least two others received police summonses as they were preparing to cover rallies called by Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), which is regarded as an “extremist” party and banned in Kazakhstan although the European Parliament has called it a “peaceful opposition movement.”
Two reporters for the Uralskaya Nedelya regional newspaper, Akmaral Fedorova and Alexei Vorobyov, were held at Abaysk police station in Oral. Fedorova was arrested on the morning of 22 February as she was filming a one-man picket, one of the few forms of political protest allowed in Kazakhstan. Vorobyov was arrested shortly after midday near a DVK rally, to which he had been sent by his editors. He was questioned about his links to the party.
The police questioned Uralskaya Nedelya editor Lukpan Akhmedyarov for four hours as a witness in connection with a three-year-old criminal case. He has often been summoned for questioning in the past just before a protest – three times in 2018 and five in 2019. Radio Azattyk journalist Maria Melnikova also received a summons on the eve of the protests to give a statement the next day in connection with a ten-year-old case.
“We urge Kazakhstan not to tighten the vice on press freedom again after relative positive developments in recent months, when a journalist, Amangeldy Batyrbekov, was acquitted and President Tokayev announced that he was decriminalizing defamation,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Arrests in connection with protests and ‘summonses to give statements” violate the right to inform.”
Although Batyrbekov was acquitted of defamation on 9 January, the police began targeting him again on 14 February, when they detained him inside a bus for several hours during a public meeting by the Turkistan region’s governor, damaging his camera. They only let him go after the governor had left.
Kazakhstan is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.