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IPI condemns ongoing government campaign against newspaper

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an IPI press release:

IPI Condemns Takeover of Kazakh newspaper Karavan

Vienna, 13 August 2007 - According to information provided to the International Press Institute (IPI), the weekly newspaper Karavan received a letter, dated 6 August, from the printing house Asia Press, which said it would no longer produce the paper. At the same time, Karavan's management received a letter from their landlord, who said they must immediately vacate the premises.

Since then, Karavan's editors, including editor-in-chief Alexander Shukhov, have not been able to enter their offices, and a new, almost identical looking, version of the newspaper is now being published under the control of the Kazakh government, who have allegedly used "threats and bribes" to retain most of the newspaper's journalists and media staffers.

"The de facto takeover of Karavan appears to be part of a concerted campaign of harassment against media outlets owned by President Nursultan Nazarbayev's former son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev," said Johann P. Fritz, Director of IPI.

"Whatever the alleged crimes of the media owner, the Kazakh government's actions do not justify the takeover or closure of media organisations and are a further sign of the deterioration of press freedom in Kazakhstan," Fritz said. "A free and independent press is the lifeblood of democracy. We therefore call on the Kazakh authorities to allow Karavan's original editors to return to their offices and to allow the newspaper to renew its operations without further harassment or intimidation," added Fritz.

On 24 May, an Almaty court banned Karavan for three months for allegedly violating unspecified media regulations. On 4 June, the prosecutor general ordered the closure of Karavan's website for allegedly revealing secret details of the investigation into the kidnapping of two senior managers working for the commercial bank, Nurbank. Kazakh authorities say Aliyev, a part owner of Nurbank who was married to Nazarbayev's eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, ordered the abduction of the two senior bankers.

In May, Aliyev was removed as Ambassador to Austria and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and Kazakh authorities have sought his extradition to Kazakhstan to stand trial for his alleged involvement in the kidnappings. On 8 August, an Austrian federal court rejected Kazakhstan's request to have Aliyev extradited. The court ruled that Aliyev, who says the allegations are designed to thwart his ambition to run for the presidency, should not be sent back to Kazakhstan because he would not receive a fair trial.

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