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IRIN Asia | Central Asia | KAZAKHSTAN | KAZAKHSTAN: Interview with participant at controversial Euroasian Media Forum | Human Rights, Other | Interview
Tuesday 27 December 2005
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KAZAKHSTAN: Interview with participant at controversial Euroasian Media Forum

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


The Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbeyev, along with his daughter, listens to a speaker at last year's Eurasian Media Forum in Almaty

ALMATY, 30 Apr 2004 (IRIN) - A Kazakh journalist has complained that the third Euroasian Media Forum - a high profile international event organised by the president's daughter - held in Almaty last week, failed to address the concerns of her colleagues. Important issues affecting the local media were ignored according to Aigul Omarova, a journalist with 'Navigator', a popular Internet-based newspaper in Kazakhstan. She spoke to IRIN and gave examples of restrictions on media freedom in Kazakhstan, including the harassment of local journalists.

QUESTION: What do these forums and discussions achieve? What do they introduce specifically into democratisation of the country and turning it into a civil society?

ANSWER: If we are talking about gatherings such as the Euroasia Media Forum, then concrete outcomes seem to be ambiguous. For journalists from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, they do give an opportunity to meet colleagues not only from Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan but from the Western media as well. But there isn't any discussion on urgent issues because the Euroasia media forum is gradually becoming a gathering of Western journalists and politicians, while issues concerning regional media workers are skipped over. In other words, unfortunately, double standards prevail. The forum was launched to establish a constructive dialogue between the journalists of East and West, but it turns out to be dominated by monologues from representatives of the West. Meanwhile, the problems of the Kazakh media are left aside.

Q: Were any substantive problems facing the Central Asian media actually discussed at the forum?

A: In effect, they were not discussed. Even during the discussion about safety issues in journalists' work there was more talk from Western colleagues than about providing security for Central Asian journalists. Things came to a head when the producer of the BBC's "Correspondent" programme, Eva Evart, tried to silence her Uzbek colleague, who protested that safety issues concerning Central Asian journalists were not being tackled.

Q: President Nursultan Nazarbayev opened the third Euroasia Media Forum with a sensational act - vetoing the draft law on media that had been criticised as repressive to journalists - which caused much debate. Do you think the move was a real step towards liberalisation of the media?

A: I think that the rejection of the new media law is a gesture. It is meant for the Western representatives who, of course, know neither the reality of Kazakhstan nor Kazakh laws. Rejection of this law shouldn't be taken as a step towards democratisation of society, because in practice the new bill doesn't contain anything significant. The current Civil and Administrative Codes, the law on the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the law on national security, on state security and others, which restrict the freedom of journalists while fulfilling their professional duties and the right to obtain reliable information, are quite sufficient for oppressing journalists.

According to the latter, any journalist or media outlet can be tried if they are not loyal to the current regime. The new law would just add to the above-mentioned laws and strengthen the rights of the authorities regarding disloyal journalists and media.

Q: As of today, more than 2,000 media outlets, including some opposition publications, are registered in Kazakhstan. Does this not indicate, as the conference organisers maintain, that there is freedom of speech in the country?

A: It is very, very ambiguous. Opposition newspapers such as Assandi Times and Soz are operating and circulating in the country, in which the main points of society are boldly covered and the authorities are criticised. But the presence of these publications doesn't mean that there is freedom of speech in the country, because almost all electronic media cannot freely speak about what worries the population of Kazakhstan and concerns the media. There is an impression that Assandi Times and Soz exist only to show the West that the Kazakh authorities don't intend to turn off the road of democratisation. But in reality it is not so.

Q: As for the media itself, are there any examples of pressure being put on journalists?

A: There are enough of them. Criminal cases were initiated against the chief editor of the Soldat newspaper, Ermurat Bapi, the chief editor of the regional newspaper Diapazon, Vladimir Mikhailov. Ermurat Bapi is banned from publishing activities, while Vladimir Mikhailov was even imprisoned and spent several months in jail. We can go on and give more examples. It is significant that journalists working for regional media are more often harassed because the heads of regional [provincial, district, city and town] administrations often carry out their duties preserving political stability rather too enthusiastically, which is perceived by them as muzzling freedom of speech and pluralism of opinions.


 Theme(s) Human Rights
Other recent KAZAKHSTAN reports:

Presidential election fell short of international standards - OSCE,  5/Dec/05

Independent inquiry into death of presidential critic sought,  14/Nov/05

Press freedom deteriorates ahead of presidential election,  25/Oct/05

OSCE to monitor presidential election,  19/Oct/05

OSCE election experts to arrive,  12/Sep/05

Other recent Human Rights reports:

AFGHANISTAN: Journalists still under threat, 26/Dec/05

AFGHANISTAN: Journalist jailed for blasphemy, freed, 22/Dec/05

UZBEKISTAN: Berlin to examine prosecution request, 20/Dec/05

PAKISTAN: Rape allegation highlights vulnerability of quake survivors, 20/Dec/05

UZBEKISTAN: Forced labour continues in cotton industry, 9/Dec/05

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