29 November 2016 RAN 23/16
PEN International is seriously concerned about the arrest on 15 November 2016 of journalist Bigeldy Gabdullin, the President of the Kazakh PEN Club, who was arrested in connection with alleged extortion. According to Kazakhstan’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Bigeldy Gabdullin used his positions as editor-in-chief of the Central Asia Monitor and director of Radiotochka to defame the business reputations of public officials and extort 10 million tenge (equivalent to almost US$29,000). Bigeldy Gabdullin is currently held under a two-month pre-trial detention order, the longest period allowable under Kazakh law. Since his arrest, he has been held in the Temporary Detention Facility of the Department of Internal Affairs in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana. He is currently only being allowed communication with his lawyer, and no family members are able to see him or speak to him. PEN International fears he may have been targeted for his reporting critical of government officials. PEN International is calling for him to be released unless clear evidence of a criminal offence is made available in which case he should be charged and tried promptly and fairly in accordance with international fair trial standards.
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Send appeals to the Kazakhstan authorities:
- Calling for the immediate release of Bigeldy Gabdullin unless clear evidence of a criminal offence is made available and he is charged and tried promptly and fairly in accordance with international fair trial standards;
- Expressing concern at reports of the widespread use of torture against detainees and prisoners in Kazakhstan and urging the Kazakhstan authorities to ensure that Bigeldy Gabdullin is protected from torture or other ill-treatment while held in detention;
- Expressing further concern at the extensive application of criminal law provisions to individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression and lack of independence of the judiciary and urging the authorities to ensure that Kazakhstan upholds its obligations to protect freedom of expression.
Send appeals to:
President of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev
Palace of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan “Akorda”,
Administration of the President “Akorda” building, Left bank of the Ishim River, Astana, Kazakhstan www.akorda.kz
Salutation: Your Excellency
14 Orynbor Street Astana, 010000 Republic of Kazakhstan
Fax: +7 7172 506 402
Salutation: Dear Prosecutor General
Minister of Internal Affairs
Tauelsizdik avenue, 1 Astana, 010000 Republic of Kazakhstan Email: Kense [at] mvd [dot] kz
Salutation: Dear Minister
Human Rights Commissioner
8 Orynbor Street
Republic of Kazakhstan
Fax: +7 7172 740 548
Send copies to the Embassy of Republic of Kazakhstan in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here .
Bigeldy Gabdullin, aged 61, is a prominent novelist, essayist and translator in Kazakhstan. He is the author of Serious Conversation (2007), the award-winning The Great Nomads (2011) and more than 300 journalistic articles. He has also translated into Russian the works of several Kazakh authors. In 2013 he was elected a president of Kazakh PEN. In 2015, under his leadership, the Kazakh PEN Club launched a series called ‘We the Kazakh People’ aiming to translate Kazakh authors into English in order to bring Kazakh literature to the attention of a wider international audience.
A well-known journalist, Gabdullin came to the authorities’ attention in the 1990s for his critical articles about Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev. In 2001, following harassment and several defamation cases brought against him, he fled the for the United. He returned to Kazakhstan in 2004, becoming the editor-in-chief of Central Asia Monitor newspaper. He also founded the Radiotochka.kz online news portal.
Gabdullin was arrested on 15 November 2016 under Article 128 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on investigative detention and is held in the Temporary Detention Facility of the Department of Internal Affairs in the capital Astana. Kazakhstan’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau released a statement alleging that Bigeldy Gabdullin used his positions as editor-in-chief of the Central Asia Monitor and director of Radiotochka to defame the business reputations of public officials and extort 10 million tenge (US$ 28,939). He is currently held under a two-month pre-trial detention order, the longest period allowable under Kazakh law. He is only being allowed communication with his lawyer, and no family members are able to see him or speak to him. His lawyer appealed against the detention order but the appeal was rejected on 24 November 2016.
Gabdullin’s arrest is particularly concerning in light of the dire situation of freedom of expression in the country. Several other journalists have been arrested and prosecuted on dubious grounds in the last year and several bloggers have also received prison sentences or been placed under house arrest. International and domestic NGOs have highlighted a long-standing practice of torture in detention.
Imprisoned journalists include well-known independent journalist Guzyal Baidalinova, owner of the Nakanune.kz online news site, who spent almost seven months in prison before she was released when the Court of Appeals suspended her 18 month prison sentence for ‘deliberately publishing false information’ about a bank; and Seytkazy Matayev, Chair of the National Press Club of Kazakhstan and owner of the independent news agency KazTag, and his son Aset Matayev, director of KazTag, who were sentenced to six and five years in prison respectively in October 2016 after conviction of tax fraud and embezzlement of state funds in Kazakhstan. Both denied the charges, which they said were intended to stop their independent reporting. Dunja Mijatovic, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said at the time that the case against Mataev ‘could be detrimental to media pluralism in Kazakhstan’.
International and regional institutions have also highlighted concerns for free expression in Kazakhstan. In March 2016, the European Parliament issued a resolution on freedom of expression in the country. In August 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights expressed concern in its concluding observations on its review of Kazakhstan about restrictions on freedom of expression, including ‘the extensive application of criminal law provisions to individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression’ as well as torture and other ill-treatment and lack of independence of the judiciary.
PEN International raised its concerns on the freedom of expression situation in Kazakhstan in a joint shadow report with Article 19 to the Universal Periodic Review of Kazakhstan by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014.