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Kazakh journalist missing ahead of anti-corruption press conference

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 2 January 2013 - ARTICLE 19 calls on the Kazakh authorities to launch a full and transparent investigation into the disappearance of a journalist who was poised to reveal information about corruption in the country. Tokbergen Abiyev went missing on 20 December, the evening before a press conference at which he claimed he would reveal sensational information about corruption. Abiyev made the claim in text messages prior to the event, which was being called "Corruptionist should be in prison."

“The disappearance of Abiyev has sent shock waves through the journalistic community. The Kazakh authorities must take all possible measures to address his disappearance. Anybody that is engaged in disclosing information of public importance must be able to do so without fear of repercussions. The Kazakh authorities must act now to show they truly care about the right to freedom expression” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

Tokbergen Abiyev is currently the head of the legal portal, deputy president of the People's Anticorruption Committee, and head of the press club “The Alliance of Kazakhstan Mass Media Zakon i Pravosudiye.” Abiyev had previously served as the editor-in-chief of Zakon i Pravosudiye, a newspaper that focused on corruption.

On the night of December 20, Abiyev went to the press club to get prepared for the press conference. An hour later he had a conversation with press club staffer, Andrey Taranov, and asked him to wait until he came back with press materials. During the night, both Abiyev's wife and Andrey Taranov tried unsuccessfully to reach him via mobile.

His disappearance was reported to the police on December 22. The investigation into the case of his disappearance is underway by the Interior Department of Almaty.

In 2008, then a chief editor of the Zakon i Pravosudiye newspaper, Tokbergen Abiyev was charged with giving a bribe to a financial police officer for “materials discrediting the judicial system” of Kazakhstan as reported by the financial police and sentenced to 3 years in prison. The name and title of the officer was never disclosed to the public.

In March 2007, another journalist for the newspaper, Oralgaisha Omarshanova went missing under mysterious circumstances after receiving a number of death threats by phone demanding that she stop her critical reporting. Over the course of the last five years, the investigation made a little progress, and while she is now presumed dead, her body has not been found.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the government of Kazakhstan to ensure the safety of journalists who engage in investigating and reporting issues of public importance.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Kazakh authorities without delay to implement the recommendations in the latest Joint Declaration of the four special mandates for protecting freedom of expression. In particular:

Investigations should lead to the identification and prosecution of all of those responsible for crimes against freedom of expression, including direct perpetrators and instigators, as well as those who conspire to commit, aid and abet, or cover up such crimes.

Investigations should be conducted in a transparent manner, subject to the need to avoid prejudice to the investigation.

The disappearance of Abiyev follows two cases in which journalists (Lukpan Akhmedyarov and Ularbek Baytalak) were attacked in response to their work.

ARTICLE 19 calls on Kazakhstan to make every effort to eliminate violence against journalists in Kazakhstan.

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