Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev
President of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Prosecutor General of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Head of the Presidential Administration
Chairman of the National Bureau of Anti-Corruption Enforcement
The undersigned members of IFEX, the global network promoting and defending freedom of expression, are writing to express our profound concern over the recent arrest and holding under house arrest of Seytkazy Matayev, head of the Kazakh Journalists' Union. We are alarmed by what appears to be a pattern of unwarranted harassment against Matayev as the National Press Club president. We ask that you immediately review Matayev's case and take steps to ensure that it is handled impartially and transparently by the state, and that the circumstances that have led to recent actions against Matayev and the National Press Club are fully investigated.
The harassment of Mr. Matayev began in early January, when the National Press Club of which he is the president was informed that an audit of its finances had been initiated by the city's anti-corruption department. Shortly after an inquiry was initiated by unknown parties which claimed that the upper levels of the building the National Press Club is located are earthquake-prone and should be demolished. Mr. Matayev has come under 24-hour physical and digital surveillance, culminating in charges of embezzlement being laid against him on 10 February and his arrest and detention on 22 February.
We find the close timing of these separate interventions suspicious, and are concerned that they may have been orchestrated by powerful parties that wish to silence Matayev. This impression was strengthened by a public statement made by the Anti-Corruption Bureau shortly after Matayev's arrest that described him as being corrupt and having committed serious crimes. Such rhetoric violates his right to be considered innocent until proven guilty as provided by Article 77 of the constitution of Kazakhstan, as well as Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Kazakhstan is a party.
Mr. Matayev is a critical figure within the press community and is supported and respected by fellow journalists both within Kazakhstan and abroad. During his tenure as its president, the National Press Club has been a key venue for conferences and debates that are integral to the functioning of Kazakhstan as a free society. With national elections scheduled for the end of March, it is vitally important that Matayev and the National Press Club are able to perform this role, continuing to cover controversial news and issues so that the public can make informed decisions about the candidates they will support.
We therefore call on you to take all steps to end the targeted harassment of Seytkazy Matayev and the National Press Club, including:
- Request the Prosecutor General's office take over the investigation of Seytkazy Matayev's alleged embezzlement from the Anti-Corruption Bureau, which has demonstrated its lack of appropriate impartiality in this case;
- Open an inquiry into circumstances surrounding the order to demolish the National Press Club;
- Personally guarantee that any investigation into Seytkazy Matayev will be conducted impartially and transparently, respecting all his rights as provided for by Kazakh and international law.
Signed, Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Albanian Media Institute
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Independent Journalism - Romania
Committee to Protect Journalists
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Free Media Movement
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
International Press Institute
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
National Union of Somali Journalists
Pacific Islands News Association
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
PEN American Center
Public Association "Journalists"
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique