OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir today criticized the temporary detention of journalists and editors from Ratel.kz and Forbes Kazakhstan, and the blocking of the Ratel.kz webpage in Kazakhstan.
“Blocking of an online news resource is a disproportionate restriction on freedom of expression. The detention of journalists and searches of their homes and offices following a dispute between a businessman and a publication is an act of intimidation, Désir said. “This is a very worrying development, to the detriment of media freedom in Kazakhstan.”
“While I appreciate the quick response of Dariga Nazarbaeva, Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on International Relations, Defence and Security, demanding a fair and transparent investigation into the case, the fact that the website remains blocked and the journalists under investigation had to sign a non-disclosure agreement is detrimental to freedom of the media,” said Désir.
The criminal investigation involving both publications is reportedly based on Article 274 para 3 of the criminal code of Kazakhstan, related to the ‘dissemination of deliberately false information’. The introduction of the article was widely criticized by international organizations and members of Kazakhstani civil society for putting all investigative journalists, especially reporters covering alleged corruption, at risk of a criminal prosecution.
In 2015, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media warned the authorities about the potential abuse of Article 274, saying that journalists should not be arrested for what they write.
On 31 March 2018 the Medeu district court banned Ratel.kz and forbade its chief editor to publish under the news website’s name. After raids of the editorial offices of both publications and at the private homes of several staff members, journalists Aleksandr Vorotilov from Forbes and Marat Asipov, Sapa Mekebaev and Anna Kalashnikova from Ratel.kz were detained, but later released.