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Press seizure underscores concerns about government's commitment to freedom

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington, February 3, 2010 - Freedom House condemns the Kazakh government's failure to live up to its commitment to protect fundamental freedom of expression following the seizure of print runs from five independent newspapers. The seizure of papers occurred the very week that Kazakh foreign minister, Kanat Saudabayev, is in Washington speaking about Kazakhstan's commitment to democratic norms.

An Almaty district court ordered the seizure of the print runs of five newspapers - Respublika (which was previously the subject of a punitive fine for its reporting about a major Kazakh bank), Golos Respubliki, Vzglyad, Kursiv and Kursiv-News - and issued an order banning any reports "damaging the honor and integrity" of Timur Kulibaev, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's son-in-law, according to a report on Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty.

"The hypocrisy of the Government of Kazakhstan is astonishing," said Freedom House advocacy director Paula Schriefer. "Attempting to persuade U.S. policy-makers of its intention to uphold the democratic norms of the OSCE while blatantly repressing its own media demonstrates that Kazakhstan is not prepared for its new role at the helm of the organization."

Civic organizations in Kazakhstan have called on their government to repeal its draconian libel laws, which have had a chilling effect on the free press and encourage self censorship by reporters. In December, two Kyrgyz journalists were murdered in Kazakhstan in connection with stories they were covering. Last year, Kazakhstan's president signed an internet law subjecting websites and citizen journalists to the same repressive standards as those that limit the traditional media in Kazakhstan from reporting freely about public officials and the businesses they control.

"It is past time for the Kazakh government to show its partners in the OSCE that it is serious about keeping the promises it made in Madrid in 2007," Freedom House senior program manager for Eurasia Sam Patten pointed out. "This recent action should serve as a wake-up call to democratic governments that rewards should be reserved for good behavior rather than empty promises."

Kazakhstan is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2009.

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