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"Taszhargan" newspaper and journalist Almas Kusherbayev ordered to compensate government official in defamation case

(Adil Soz/IFEX) - On 16 January 2009, a court ordered the Kazakh opposition newspaper "Taszhargan" and one of its reporters to pay US$25,000 in compensation in a defamation case.

The case stemmed from an article published in the newspaper in April 2008. The author, Almas Kusherbayev, expressed his opinion on the problem of the increasing prices of local bread and grain. Analysing the situation in the agricultural sector, and particularly in the grain sector, the journalist noted that Member of Parliament Romin Madinov, who is the leader of the Agricultural Committee of the Mazhilis (the lower chamber of the Kazakh Parliament) is a landowner who also owns many regional granaries.

In October 2008, Madinov filed a complaint based on protection of his honour and dignity and demanded a payment of 300 million Kazakh tenge (approx. US$2.5 million) for "moral damages".

The court sessions went on for 2 months. For cases such as this, a special commission including the representatives for the plaintiff and the defendant, plus an expert from the State Expertise Commission, should have been created to analyse the text of the article and determine if it was insulting or defamatory. However, this commission was never created.

The International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech (Adil Soz) carried out an analysis of the text, which was the only text review completed in the case. The analysis indicated that the article did not contain any insulting or libellous text. The author just expressed his views. Everyone in Kazakhstan should have the right to freely receive and disseminate information by any means not prohibited by law as stated in Article 20 of the Constitution of Kazakhstan. However, the court failed to take into consideration information that would have favoured the defendant.

On 16 January, the court ruled in favour of the plaintiff. The court instructed "Taszhargan" to issue a retraction and ordered the newspaper and Kusherbayev to pay 3 million Kazakh tenge (approx. US$25,000) to the plaintiff in compensation for "moral damages".

The newspaper will appeal the judge's decision.

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