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Government's promise of press freedom reforms rings hollow

CPJ's Nina Ognianova, center, leads a 12 October briefing in Vienna with Anthony Mills of IPI (left) and CPJ's Jean-Paul Marthoz (right) on Kazakhstan's failure to uphold its press freedom pledges as OSCE chair
CPJ's Nina Ognianova, center, leads a 12 October briefing in Vienna with Anthony Mills of IPI (left) and CPJ's Jean-Paul Marthoz (right) on Kazakhstan's failure to uphold its press freedom pledges as OSCE chair

CPJ

Kazakhstan is planning to make good on improving the country's free expression situation - a promise it made to secure the 2010 chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE), an OSCE politician told a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last week. But with free expression having actually deteriorated in the past few years, the outlook is bleak, say CPJ and the International Press Institute (IPI).

Decriminalising libel, placing caps on defamation awards, and enacting access-to-information legislation are on the government's agenda, said Kazakhstan ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov, who is chair of the OSCE's permanent council, at a meeting with CPJ on 11 October. But he gave no specific timeframe for enacting the reforms.

"Given that Kazakhstan reneged on reform promises made back in 2007, when it was seeking the OSCE chairmanship, there is plenty of reason to watch its actions closely now," said CPJ.

CPJ and other members have been keeping a close eye on Kazakhstan's free expression record since it won its bid for OSCE chair. In a highly critical report, "Disdaining Press Freedom, Kazakhstan Undermined OSCE,"CPJ found that well into Kazakhstan's OSCE chairmanship, at least one journalist and one prominent human rights activist are in jail for doing their jobs; two independent newspapers have been closed; and laws restricting online freedom and the coverage of public officials have been passed.

"By disregarding human rights and press freedom at home, Kazakhstan has compromised the organisation's international reputation as a guardian of these rights, undermined the OSCE's relevance and effectiveness, and thus devalued human rights in all OSCE states," said CPJ.

CPJ and IPI are urging OSCE nations to discuss Kazakhstan's press freedom record at the organisation's summit, scheduled for December in Astana, Kazakhstan's capital. Free expression and human rights are not on the agenda, and independent journalists and press freedom advocates have not been invited.

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