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Construction company withdraws lawsuit against independent newspaper

(Adil Soz/IFEX) - On 20 December 2010, the Tengizneftestroy construction company signed a letter effectively ending its lawsuit against the independent Kazakh newspaper "Uralskaya Nedelya" and journalist Lukpan Akhmediyarov.

The paper, which is based in western Kazakhstan, had earlier been ordered to pay KZT 20 million (approx. US$136,000) in damages to Tengizneftestroy. On 6 August 2009, Akhmediyarov wrote an article which revealed that the construction company had begun preparations for a large state project long before the tender was announced. Tengizneftestroy then filed a lawsuit against the newspaper and the journalist, claiming that it needed to protect its business reputation and receive compensation for moral damages incurred by the article.

"Uralskaya Nedelya" began publishing in 2001 and is the only weekly in Kazakhstan to have employees as its founders and shareholders.

On 14 December 2010, Adil Soz and the Kazakhstan Union of Journalists expressed their concerns over the case in a statement to the General Prosecutor, urging him to protect "Uralskaya Nedelya", put an end to the prosecution of journalists, and restore freedom of speech.

"Uralskaya Nedelya" is not the only Kazakh paper which has been ordered to pay a crippling fine. In 2002, the Presidential Administration filed a lawsuit against the "Assandi Times" newspaper. The paper was ordered to pay KZT 50 million (approx. US$340,000) in moral damages. The court's decision led to the bankruptcy and closure of the paper. The "Soz", "The Republic Business Review" and "Taszhargan" newspapers experienced similar difficulties in subsequent years. Currently, the "Vzglyad" (Look) paper is facing the risk of closure due to a civil dispute with a private individual who has asked for KZT 15 million (approx. US$102,000) in moral damages.

So far in 2010, the amount requested from journalists and newspapers in Kazakhstan as compensation for moral damages has reached a total of KZT 41.3 million (approx. US$279,370).

In a 12 January 2011 statement addressed to the General Prosecutor and the Chief Justice, Adil Soz and the Kazakhstan Union of Journalists called for a review of the legislative practice which results in the mass media being ordered to pay crippling fines for moral damages. "The court decisions ordering these payments of millions of KZT in damages sometimes result in bankruptcy and the media outlet's closure, and are aimed at intimidating journalists," said the statement.

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