The arrest of a leading opposition journalist in Kazakhstan has focused attention on systematic harassment of the independent media. The journalist, Sergei Duvanov, was detained shortly before he was scheduled to travel to the United States to address American audiences on human rights in Kazakhstan. Following his detention, Mr. Duvanov was arrested for allegedly raping, or attempting to rape, an underage girl.
Mr. Duvanov edits the weekly bulletin of the International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. He is an active member of the Kazakh political opposition. The arrest, he says, is part of a campaign to discredit him. The charges are serious and require a thorough and transparent investigation. If found guilty, he could face ten years imprisonment.
Earlier this year, Mr. Duvanov published a series of articles alleging that Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev and members of his entourage funneled government funds into Swiss bank accounts for personal use. In July, the journalist became the target of a criminal investigation by Kazakhstan’s state security service. In August, Mr. Duvanov was beaten by three unknown assailants outside his apartment in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s capital, just prior to traveling to Warsaw for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Sergei Duvanov is by no means the only independent journalist in Kazakhstan who has been targeted for intimidation. In May, the opposition Republic Business Review was firebombed after a threatening note was left outside its editorial offices. The note was pinned to the body of a decapitated dog. Several days later, an Almaty court ordered the publication closed. Also in May, unidentified men forced their way into the editorial offices of the opposition newspaper "SolDat," beating up two reporters and stealing computers and other equipment. The newspaper’s editor and outside observers alike believe the attack was politically motivated.
The circumstances surrounding such attacks, like those surrounding the arrest of Sergei Duvanov, are highly suspicious. It is the responsibility of the government of Kazakhstan to ensure that the country’s independent journalists are able to do their job in an atmosphere free from violence and intimidation.