Two activists arrested in Kazakhstan, five journalists detained in Russia
On 15 June two Kazakh activists were arrested in Almaty. They are charged with incitement of social discord leading to the riots in Zhanaozen in December 2011. On 13 June five Russian journalists were detained in Moscow due to new regulations on demonstrations. They took part in a protest in support of a threatened colleague.
Sunday, 17 June 2012, by HRH London, based on Article 19, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty information.
Detentions of activists and journalists in both countries are connected with mass protests and investigative proceedings.
Kazakh activists charged for riot incitement
On 15 June a theatre director Bolat Atabayev and a public activist Zhanbolat Mamai were arrested in Almaty and placed into Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (KNB) detention facility.
They were officially arrested following a court decision of 14 June 2012, stemming from their absence from interrogations conducted into incitement of social discord leading to the riots in Zhanaozen in December 2011, with which they are charged, Article 19 reports.
In May, according to the prosecutor of Zhanaozen, Bolat Atabayev and Zhanbolat Mamai failed to show up despite being summoned for questioning by officials, which has now led to their formal arrest.
A date for the trial of Atabaev and Mamai has yet to be announced. According to different opposition sources in Kazakhstan, 11 other people, including opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, will be tried on similar charges involving incitement of social discord.
“The growing number of arrests and criminal cases in Kazakhstan involving charges of inciting social discord is alarming”, says Dr Agnes Callamard, Article 19 Executive Director.
She is particularly concerned about the circumstances of these cases as the riots in Zhanaozen and Shepte are currently being dealt with by local courts while in parallel high-profile political and public activists face spurious charges of inciting social discord, which have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Kazakhstan.
In January 2012, the Kazakh authorities conducted searches of the apartments and offices of belonging to members of unregistered opposition party, Alga, and the independent newspaper, Vzglyad.
Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the Alga party, Igor Vinyavskiy, right, editor-in-chief of Vzglyad, and opposition member, Serik Sapargali, were all detained on various charges related to the official investigation into the riots in Zhanaozen.
Following the search, Atabayev and Mamai each received a summons by the Almaty department of the KNB and were formally charged with inciting social hatred under Article 164 of the Kazakh Criminal Code, however they were not detained and signed a pledge not to leave the city.
On 4 June the city court of Aktau found 34 of 37 defendants in the Zhanaozen riots trial guilty under Article 241 (2) and (3) of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan. Twelve of the 34 received prison sentences ranging from to three and seven years. Earlier, on May 21, the court of Aktau convicted 10 out of 12 protesters over rioting in the town of Shetpe.
Berik Zhagiparov, editor-in-chief of the Molodezhanaya gazeta newspaper, currently awaits the outcome of a KNB investigation started three months ago with a ‘discussion’ with a KNB investigator.
The KNB had started a pre-investigation check into Berik Zhagiparov in March of this year following the posting of a video interview of with workers from Kazakhmys (the leading copper producer in Kazakhstan) on his newspaper’s website in which they expressed their intention to begin protests.
Despite the legal obligation for a pre-investigation not to last up longer than two months Zhagiparov remains unaware of the outcome of the pre-investigation, and the formal grounds for its opening. The uncertainty about the possible charges is coupled with threats of violence and demands to close down his newspaper. The situation shows the vulnerability of independent journalists in Kazakhstan.
Detentions of journalists after a protest in Moscow
A very dramatic situation has developed last week in Russia.
As Human Rights House has informed earlier, due to a change to the law on public rallies and the administrative code in Russia, possible fines for individuals found guilty of participating in “unsanctioned” public events and rallies have increased from 300 to 300,000 rubles (from $9.15 to $9,150). The changes allow for heavy fines against event organisers if the number of participants in a demonstration exceeds what was indicated ahead of time.
On 13 June in front of the building that houses Russia’s Investigation Committee, the state agency in charge of criminal investigations, a group of journalists attempted to hold up posters protesting against threats that Alexander Bastrykin, Head of the Investigation Committee, had made against Sergei Sokolov, the deputy chief editor of Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s leading independent media outlets.
The protesting journalists were promptly detained before even unfolding their posters. The detained journalists were Natella Boltyanskaya, Olga Bychkova, Alina Grebneva, Vladimir Varfolomeev, of Echo of Moscow Radio, and Alexander Podrabinek, a prominent freelance reporter, Human Rights Watch reports.
No more freedom of assembly in Russia
Bychkova explained that each was there as an individual and that each was conducting a one-person picket, which by law does not require prior authorization. Bychkova told that each of the five was careful to stand at some distance from the others, so that they would not look like a group of demonstrators.
However, according to the legislation on public rallies adopted last week, individual pickets can be regarded as organised public events if they appear to “have attributes of planned collective action” and therefore are required to provide advance notification. Police officers, referring to this provision of the law, immediately demanded that the journalists leave and then forced them into a van.
Police took the journalists to the Basmanny precinct in central Moscow, where they questioned the journalists, forced them to provide written statements explaining their actions, and then released them without charge.
The detention of the five journalists caused an immediate media outcry, and other journalists went to the Investigation Committee building.
The protests are continuing. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that at least four people have been detained in Moscow on 16 June outside the building of Russia's Investigative Committee, after activists started what they call an "Occupy the Investigative Committee" campaign. About 100 people were taking part in the action.
The reason of this protest was the intent of the journalists to express their solidarity with a colleague, whom they believed to be facing an urgent security situation.
Novaya Gazeta deputy editor flees into exile after threat
According to Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, late on 4 June Bastrykin’s security guards forced his colleague Sergei Sokolov into a car and took him to the woods outside Moscow, where Bastrykin personally confronted the journalist and aggressively threatened him with physical violence.
Bastrykin’s threats were prompted by a 4 June article by Sokolov about the fact that a former parliamentary representative for the southwestern region of Krasnodar had just been sentenced to nothing more than a fine although he had been found guilty of protecting a criminal gang responsible for the deaths of 12 people in 2010, Reporters Without Borders told. Sokolov’s article also accused Bastrykin of colluding with this gang.
In the early evening of 14 June, Bastrykin, who had initially denied Muratov’s accusations in an interview with Izvestia, met with Muratov and other editors of leading Russian media outlets
Novaya Gazeta said that Bastrykin used the meeting to apologise for his behavior. “I had no right to lose my temper, but I lost it, and I’m sorry about it”, Bastrykin was quoted as saying.
Novaya Gazeta’s press service told Human Rights Watch that the publication is satisfied with the outcome and is not asking for an investigation as it “did not want to fight a war with the Investigation Committee”.
The outlet also said that Sokolov, who left Russia after the threats because he feared for his life, will return to Russia promptly as he received personal guarantees from Bastrykin.
Reporters Without Borders stress that Bastrykin is one of Russia’s top police officers and is in charge of the investigation into Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya’s 2006 murder. Yet he explicitly threatened a representative of the same newspaper.
With a total of five of its journalists killed in connection with their work in Russia, Novaya Gazeta has paid a high price for its determination to do its duty to report the news, the organization says.
HRH London, based on Article 19, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty information.