Regional newspaper editor harassed after investigating real estate scandal
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the withdrawal of all proceedings against Lukpan Akhmedyarov, a newspaper editor based in the city of Oral, in western Kazakhstan, who is facing a possible two-year jail sentence for allegedly divulging confidential information about “a preliminary judicial proceeding or a closed-door trial.”
The editor of the regional weekly Uralskaya Nedelya, Akhmedyarov has been summoned or detained for questioning by the local police three times this week in connection with a story published on 27 November about allegedly fraudulent real estate transactions in Oral.
When questioned for the first time on 1 February, he refused to reveal his sources although threatened with a possible two-year sentence. During this interrogation, he pointed out that he could not be prosecuted under the law on divulging confidential information unless previously instructed by prosecutors not to divulge the information, and this was not the case.
After setting off on the morning of 3 February to cover an unrelated matter in the nearby city of Atyrau, he was intercepted by police, who forcibly removed him from his car and took him to the police station, where he was detained for around three hours. The two reporters with him were also detained.
After this second intervention, he accused the police of obstructing his work and he had himself filmed outside the police station holding a placard with the words “Police or Gestapo?” As a result of this protest, he was taken to the police station for the third time and was charged with “violating rules for improving the territory of cities and villages.” He was summoned to the police station again today.
“The many summonses to which Lukpan Akhmedyarov is being subjected are clearly preventing him from doing his work as a journalist and amount to harassment,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We add our voice to the appeal by independent Kazakh media for an end to the proceedings against Uralskaya Nedelya’s editor. We also urge the police to stop obstructing his work.”
This is not the first time that the authorities have harassed this newspaper’s reporters. Several of them were followed by police all day during the parliamentary elections on 10 January.
After 30 years of absolute rule, President Nursultan Nazarbayev finally stood down in March 2019, making way for Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who portrays himself as a reformer. Kazakhstan is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.