The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government used a variety of means to control the media and limit freedom of expression, including laws, harassment, licensing regulations, Internet restrictions, and criminal and administrative charges. Judicial actions against journalists and media outlets, including civil and criminal libel suits filed by government officials, led to the suspension of media outlets and self-censorship.
Freedom of Speech: The government limited individuals’ ability to criticize the country’s leadership; regional leaders attempted to limit local media outlets’ criticism of them. The law prohibits insulting the president, the president’s family, and other senior officials.
Freedom of Press: According to official statistics, the government owned 16 percent of the country’s 2,783 media outlets. Many privately owned newspapers and television stations received government subsidies. Companies allegedly controlled by members of the president’s family or loyal associates owned the majority of those broadcast media outlets that the government did not control outright. Media observers believed that the government wholly or partly owned most of the seven nationwide television broadcasters. Regional governments owned several frequencies, and the Ministry of Culture and Information (MCI) distributed them to independent broadcasters via a tender system.
All media were required to register with the MCI, although Web sites were exempt from this requirement.
The law limits the live retransmission of foreign-produced programming to 20 percent of a station’s weekly airtime. This provision burdened smaller, less developed regional television stations that lacked resources to develop programs, although the government did not sanction any media outlet under this provision.
In November the Almaty Prosecutor’s Office initiated cases demanding that several opposition media outlets be banned for allegedly “inciting social discord” and “calling for the overthrow of the constitutional order.” The accused media outlets include the newspapers Golos Respubliki, Vzglyad, the Respublika Web portal, and the Internet television stations K Plus and Stan TV. At year’s end various Almaty courts ruled in favor of the prosecutor’s request to ban Respublika, Golos Respubliki, Vzglyad, K Plus, and Stan TV as extremist. In December the Almaty City prosecutor petitioned the court to suspend the Guljan.org opposition Web site for three months for allegedly calling for an unsanctioned demonstration. The court ordered Guljan.org to cease all operations until the case could be heard. At year’s end the case continued.
Violence and Harassment: Press advocacy NGO Adil Soz recorded 15 attacks on editorial offices and journalists, compared with 14 in 2011. According to the NGO, reporters were prevented from carrying out their professional duties in 34 instances, compared with 43 the previous year, and journalists were denied or given significantly restricted access to public information 190 times. Journalists working in opposition media and those covering corruption reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors.
On April 19, unknown assailants attacked Lukpan Akhmedyarov, a journalist from the newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya. The assailants beat him, stabbed him eight times, and shot him with an air gun. Akhmedyarov regained consciousness three days later. He believed that the attack was connected with his journalistic activity, and prompted by the publication of his article “Brother, Father of the Son-in-law and Pull,” published a few weeks before the attack. The article detailed the personal relationships between members of government bodies in the Oblast of West Kazakhstan. The head of the Department of Internal Police Tlekkabyl Imashev sued Akhmedyarov and the newspaper for defamation. In July Akhmedyarov and the founder of Uralskaya Nedelya were charged with a fine of five million tenge ($33,333).
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law enables the government to restrict media content under amendments that prohibit undermining state security or advocating class, social, race, national, or religious superiority, or cruelty and violence. Owners, editors, distributors, and journalists may be held civilly and criminally responsible for content unless it came from an official source. The government used this provision to limit media freedom.
The Uralsk City Court No. 2 ordered the newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya to pay 1.5 million tenge ($10,000) in damages to Arman Kozhakhmetov, who was the subject of one of the paper’s articles. The article, written by journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov and entitled “The Repeated Story,” reported accusations from an alleged witness that several local city and law enforcement officials, including Kozhakhmetov, had participated in the murder of a famous athlete in 1999. The court ordered Uralskaya Nedelya and Akhmedyarov to publish an apology and retract the allegations. The case was under appeal at year’s end.
Libel Laws/National Security: The law on state secrets makes it a criminal offense to release information regarding the health, finances, or private life of the president, as well as economic information, such as mineral reserves and government debts to foreign creditors. To avoid possible legal problems, media outlets often practiced self-censorship regarding the president or his family.
Private parties could initiate criminal libel suits without independent action by the government, and an individual filing such a suit is able to file a civil suit as well based upon the same allegations. Officials used the law’s libel and defamation provisions to restrict media outlets from publishing unflattering information. Both the criminal and civil codes contain articles establishing broad liability for libel, with no statute of limitation or maximum amount of compensation. The requirement that owners, editors, distributors, publishing houses, and journalists prove the veracity of published information, regardless of its source, promoted self-censorship at each level.
In December 2011 Medeu District court in Almaty ordered the editor of the Web site Guljan.org, Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, to publish a retraction of statements made about the wife of the former chairman of the financial police, Saltana Akhanova. It also ordered Yergaliyeva to pay a fine of five million tenge ($33,333) as compensation for moral damages to Akhanova. Akhanova, wife of the former chairman of the financial police and current akim of the Akmolinsk Region Kayrat Kozhamzharov, filed a lawsuit against Yergaliyeva in response to an article published on Guljan.org that alleged Akhanova had millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts.
NGOs and monitors reported that libel cases against journalists and media outlets remained a problem. Adil Soz cited 16 criminal and 86 civil charges against media outlets and journalists during the first 10 months of the year, compared with 27 total suits in all of 2011.
The Law on National Security prohibits “the influence of information on public and individual consciousness related to deliberate distortion and spreading of unreliable information to the detriment of national security.” According to experts, the term “unreliable information” is overly broad. The law also requires owners of communication networks and service providers to obey the orders of authorities in case of terrorist attacks or the government’s order to enact the suppression of mass riots.
Publishing Restrictions: The law prohibits publication of any statement that promotes or glorifies “extremism,” or “incites social discord,” terms that international legal experts said the government had not clearly defined. The government subjected media outlets willing to criticize the president directly to intimidation, such as law enforcement actions or civil suits. Although these actions had a chilling effect on media outlets, criticism of government policies continued. Incidents of local government pressure on the media continued.
In September the MCI reported it had taken preventive steps to ensure no unofficial reports on emergencies leaked into the media. According to Minister of Culture Darkhan Mynbai, the ministry reached an agreement with state-owned media to ban any unofficial reports or negative interpretation of the official information during the time of an emergency. He also stated that the ministry would prevent the dissemination of any information from alternative sources during emergencies.
Observers reported that the government monitored e-mail and Internet activity, blocked or slowed access to opposition Web sites, and planted progovernment propaganda in Internet chat rooms. The state regulated the country’s three internet service providers, including the state-owned Kaztelecom. Nevertheless, Web sites expressed a wide variety of views, including viewpoints critical of the government. The UN Broadband Communications Commission reported that 45 percent of the population had Internet access.
The MCI controlled the registration of “.kz” Internet domains. Authorities may suspend or revoke registration for failure to situate servers in the country. Observers criticized the registration process as unduly restrictive and vulnerable to abuse.
Adil Soz reported cases of the government blocking or restricting access to Web sites and the government’s intermittent blocking of the Web site LiveJournal throughout the year, although the site remained accessible through other servers. Bloggers reported anecdotally that their sites were periodically blocked; including the independent news sites guljan.org, respublika-kaz.info, kplustv.net, krasnoetv.kz, podkazt.kz, socialismkz.info, and janaozen.net. Throughout the year the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that the Web site of the opposition newspaper Golos Respubliki remained inaccessible by users of Kaztelecom, the government-owned Internet service provider.
In December courts in Almaty banned several opposition news Web sites as extremist, including the official Web sites of the opposition newspapers Vzglyad and Golos Respubliki, as well as their social networking pages.
Courts frequently suspended the activities of opposition Web sites while the courts considered claims against them.
The government implemented new regulations on Internet access that mandated surveillance cameras in all Internet cafes, required visitors to present identification to use the Internet, demanded that Internet cafes keep a log of visited Web sites, and authorized law enforcement to access the names and Internet histories of users.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom, although academics, like other citizens, were prohibited from infringing on the dignity and honor of the president and his family. Many academics practiced self-censorship.