Kazakhstan high court upholds state secrets conviction of journalist

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan [official website] on Thursday affirmed the conviction of publisher Ramazan Esergepov, sentenced to three years in jail for revealing state secrets in his newspaper. Esergepov was convicted on Saturday [AP report] for publishing communications purporting to show a connection between the Kazakh business community and the country's intelligence bureau, the National Security Bureau (KNB) [official website]. Miklos Haraszti, Representative on Freedom of the Media at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [official websites] said that revealing public corruption [press release] is "the main duty of the journalists acting in the public interest," and that "[c]riminal sanctions for 'breach of secrecy' should only apply to the officials whose job descriptions stipulate the duty to protect sensitive information, but not to citizens." Haraszti had pushed Kazakh authorities to release Esergepov, and said he hoped the country could "provide a safe working environment for journalists covering social and political issues" in advance of their 2010 chairmanship of OSCE [decision, PDF]. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) [advocacy website] called the decision disgraceful [press release], plagued by "irregularities at trial," and that Esergepov was convicted for "criticising leading figures who illegally abuse their authority" in an effort to stifle the freedom of the press. RSF called on OSCE and other international organizations to pressure the Kazakh government to free Esergepov.

In February, US State Department [official website] criticized Kazakhstan's restrictions on freedom of the press in its 2008 Country Report on Human Rights Practices [JURIST report]. In December, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] said that the former Soviet nation is falling short [JURIST report] on reforms promised in advance of their assumption of the OSCE chairmanship, including those designed to ensure media freedom and fair elections. Criticism of Kazakhstan's electoral practices has stemmed from the December 2005 election in which President Nursultan Nazarbaev [official website; BBC profile], in office since 1991, was re-elected with 91 percent of the vote. International observers raised concerns of fraud after that poll, which opposition parties unsuccessfully challenged [JURIST reports] afterward.



 

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