(RSF/IFEX) - RSF and the Damocles Network have expressed their great concern over the disturbing circumstances surrounding the death of the daughter of Lira Baysetova, editor of the opposition weekly "Respublika".
"The events surrounding Baysetova's daughter's death and the frequent strong verbal attacks against the journalist cast doubt on the supposed accidental nature of this death," said Robert Ménard, the organisation's secretary-general, in a letter addressed to Interior Minister Kairbek Soleymenov. "RSF and the Damocles Network wonder about the possible links between this tragedy and Lira Baysetova's journalistic work, notably recent articles about the Swiss bank accounts of senior Kazakh officials. We ask you to take all necessary steps to ensure Lira Baysetova's safety and will hold you responsible for anything untoward that happens to her," added Ménard.
According to information obtained by RSF, Baysetova's daughter Leyla disappeared on 23 May 2002, the same day her mother received a threatening phone call from a man she had a dispute with two months earlier. The caller reportedly said, "I've warned you, but since you've ignored what I said and you continue . . ." On 16 June, a man who claimed to be from the Interior Ministry told her that her daughter had been arrested for possession of 1.6 grammes of heroin. Later, he said she had been taken to hospital because she felt ill. Baysetova was not allowed to see her daughter in the hospital and learned on 21 June that she had died. The journalist said her daughter's body showed signs of torture.
Pressure had increased on Baysetova and her colleagues since she interviewed the Geneva general prosecutor, Bernard Bertossa, on 10 May about the Swiss bank accounts of several top Kazakh officials, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev. A week later, the headless body of a dog was found hanging over the entrance of the offices of the "Soldat" opposition newspaper, which was about to publish the interview. On 22 May, the day the interview was published, unidentified men attacked the building, beating two employees, stealing computers and smashing other equipment. The same day, the offices of the weekly "Respublika" in Almaty burned down after Molotov cocktails were thrown at the building (see IFEX alerts of 27 and 23 May 2002).
RSF notes that "Respublika" newspaper is regularly the object of threats due to its investigations into corruption in the political class. Its editor-in-chief, Baysetova, was attacked twice in 2000 and 2001. "Soldat" newspaper, which is close to the opposition party of exiled former prime minister Kazhegeldin, has also been the target of several acts of intimidation and attacks on its offices in the last two years. Its editor-in-chief, Yermurat Bapi, was brought before the courts in 2000 for publication of an articled deemed defamatory toward President Nazarbayev (see IFEX alerts of 18 April and 14 March 2001 and 8 August 2000).