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Authorities harass independent online TV station, close studio

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the government's hounding of the Almaty-based online television station Stan TV, which is Kazakhstan's leading independent news website and a regular provider of video material to the Central Asian satellite station K+.

Harassment of Stan TV and Namystan, an independent news agency with which it cooperates, intensified after they covered an unprecedented strike by oil workers in the western province of Mangystau that was violently suppressed by the authorities.

"The Kazakh security services are clearly ready to use the most absurd and insidious ploys to gag independent media," Reporters Without Borders said. "Inspections, attempted bribery, threats, attacks and now court orders – every kind of weapon has been used against Stan TV and its partners."

In the latest move, an Almaty court issued an order on 27 September for the closure of Stan TV's production studio and the dismantling of its receiver-transmitter satellite dish until it complies with the public health inspection agency's standards.

Four days before that, the same court ordered Namystan to close its offices for failure to respect fire safety standards. The wave of inspections that began nearly two months ago are clearly beginning to have an effect.

Stan TV was notified on 8 September that the health inspection agency had filed a complaint against it before Almaty's Bostandyk district court. According to the agency (whose deputy director attacked a Stan TV cameraman the day before the notification's arrival), the electromagnetic radiation from the satellite dish on Stan TV's roof posed a threat to the health of residents in the area. The owner of the dish, the telecom company ASTEL, nonetheless insisted that it complied with the standards and was less powerful than other dishes in the neighbourhood.

The agency's offensive was stepped up after a new inspection on 15 September. The agency also accused Stan TV of letting its "studio employees work without regular prior health checks" (required by the prevailing legislation for this category of employees) and of "not providing lab analysis results for noise, light intensity and temperature" in its offices.

The agency claimed that it had measured a temperature of 27°C in its offices, instead of the regulatory 25°C. All of Stan TV's requests for copies of the reports were rejected, while the results of the independent tests commissioned by Stan TV were ignored by the court.

Two of Stan TV's journalists, Sherniyaz Shagatay and Azamat Esbergen, reported on 20 September that members of the National Security Committee (KNB) – the KGB's successor – had repeatedly tried to get them to cooperate with the agency and, when they refused, began to threaten them openly and repeatedly.

Stan TV producer Danesh Baibolov said the website's accountant and members of the Russian-language staff had also been repeatedly threatened. Five Stan TV employees have already resigned because of harassment.

"The authorities must put an immediate stop to this harassment of Stan TV and its media partners," Reporters Without Borders said. "This sham justice is hurting Kazakhstan's image and its aspirations to be a regional leader."

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