Esergepov was stabbed several times in the abdomen by two individuals at around 4:30 a.m. on 14 May while on a train from Almaty to the capital, Astana, where he had been due to meet European diplomats the next day to discuss the media freedom situation in Kazakhstan.
He had also been due to discuss the prolonged detention of Zhanbolat Mamay, a journalist arrested on 10 February whose immediate release RSF has been seeking ever since.
Esergepov, who was himself jailed for three years (2009-2012) for exposing illegal activities by the National Security Committee (KNB), has become one of Kazakhstan’s leading defenders of journalists. He heads the NGO Journalists in Danger and is member of the Zhanbolat Mamay support committee.
He has also been engaged in a fight with the Kazakh authorities for financial compensation after the UN Human Rights Committee found in 2016 that his rights were violated during his trial.
“We condemn this extremely violent attack, which highlights the gravity of the situation that Kazakh journalists and human rights defenders are nowadays facing,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“The investigation conducted by the local authorities must be carried out in a complete and impartial manner and that full consideration will be given to the hypothesis that the attack was in retaliation for Esergepov’s professional activities.”
The investigators currently seem to be working on the assumption that the attack was the result of an argument with fellow passengers, which Esergepov insists was not the case. The attack was the eighth in the past year on a civil society activist in Kazakhstan, none of which has been solved.
Kazakhstan is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The main opposition national newspapers were all banned in 2013, the remaining few are collapsing under the impact of fines, and any new independent newspaper is inevitably closed within months. The Internet is closely controlled and arrests of journalists are now quite common.