The issue of media freedom in Kazakhstan was debated by MEPs today in Brussels at an event organised by S&D vice-president Marju Lauristin, in co-operation with the Open Dialog Foundation. Compelling evidence of the Kazakh authorities suppressing freedom of speech by arbitrarily closing down websites and arresting journalists is provided by the recent cases of independent media outlets Respublika and Nakanune, discussed at the event.
In December, shortly after the signing of EU-Kazakhstan enhanced partnership and co-operation agreement, two journalists from Nakanune, Gyuzyal Baidalinova and Rafael Balkin, were arrested and charged with "spreading false information" after they connected a Kazakh nationalised private bank to corruption in the construction industry. Currently Baidalinova and another Nakanune journalist Yulia Kozlova are facing between three and seven years imprisonment. In another case, the Respublika media outlet has been targeted by the Kazakh government through proceedings in a US court. After numerous attempts at closing down Respublika's web portal, the aim of the court proceedings is now for the government to obtain data about people reading and posting on Respublika's Facebook page.
Marju Lauristin MEP, vice-president of the S&D Group, stated:
"We as parliamentarians cannot simply stand by and watch the freedom of expression of journalists and ordinary Kazakh people being aggressively suppressed. The attempt to use a US court to achieve such aims is extremely worrying. Apart from Nakanune and Respublika, there are several other cases of the Kazakh authorities cracking down on freedom of expression, including on the social media, like in the case of blogger and opposition politician Muratbek Ketebayev. As the enhanced partnership and co-operation agreement is still to be ratified by EU member states' national parliaments, it should be ensured that Kazakhstan implements the EU recommendations on the protection of freedom of speech; in particular the criminal cases against journalists and bloggers should be stopped immediately. We need a European response to the violation of such basic rights and values which are so important for us."