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Kazak Reporter Blames Officials for Beating

Prominent journalist who was beaten up last month believes the authorities ordered the assault.
By Leila Mukhammedova

An independent Kazak journalist alleged last week that the authorities were behind an attack on him nearly a month ago.


The accusation follows repeated government denials of claims that it has been orchestrating a wave of intimidation against the non-state media.


Speaking at a September 17 Almaty press briefing on his participation in a recent OSCE gathering in Warsaw, Duvanov - who was beaten up by three unknown men last month - said he believed law enforcement agencies were behind the attack in retaliation for articles in which he had criticised President Nazarbaev.


The incident came nearly two months after the National Security Committee, NSC, the successor to the KGB, launched a criminal case against the journalist, charging him with impugning the president.


Shortly after the assault on Duvanov, who was hit around the head in the stairwell of his home, presidential advisers claimed it was the work of Nazarbaev rivals within the government determined to undermine him.


At the time, analysts gave this explanation some credence although they equally suspected the attack had been ordered either by Nazarbaev or circles close to him. Duvanov had previously refrained from pointing the finger of blame at the authorities, merely identifying his assailants as hooligans.


Clearly nervous about international reaction to the Duvanov beating, the government held a press conference earlier this month, in which it sought to reassure the outside world that it was keen to protect the rights of journalists.


Officials denied that they were responsible for the recent attacks on journalist, of which the Duvanov assault was the latest. Onalsyn Jumabekov, first deputy prosecutor general of Kazakstan, insisted, "We have never received orders or instructions to persecute the independent media."


Some analysts criticised the timing of the government's initiative, claiming its avowed concern about press freedom appears less than credible in light of the growing pressure on the media in general.


"The law enforcement agencies had to stage some form of public event after President Nazarbaev had instructed them to investigate the August attack on Duvanov and the closing-down of certain media," said political commentator Berik Barlybaev.


The opinions expressed by the authorities during the event would seem to back up claims of government insincerity.


Asked why leading opposition papers - such as Delovoye Obozrenie-Respublika and SolDAT - had not been allowed to come the press conference, NSC chairman Nurtai Dutbaev said, "Why ask them to come - they are always looking at the seamy side of things. It's like inviting a thug to your home, knowing all along he's going to beat you up."


And deputy premier Baurjan Muhamedjanov criticised journalists for being too opinionated and complained that their weren't enough state-run media.


Ramazan Esergepov, editor-in-chief of the independent Nachnyom s Ponedelnika, said it was impossible to have a dialogue with the media, unless you include leading opposition journalists.


And the independent Panorama paper drew attention to the fact that not one of the government representatives who attended the press conference made any mention of the wave of media intimidation.


"Not one of the ministers present brought up the subject of the recent attacks - and no theories were offered as to why these 'accidents' only happen to journalists critical of the government," it said.


Duvanov, the editor of the Kazak Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law Bulletin, is also an active member of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakstan.


In July, he was arrested for writing about alleged foreign bank accounts linked to Nazarbaev's circle in an article on the website www.kub.kz. He was subsequently charged with insulting "the dignity and honour" of the president.


Leila Mukhammedova is the pseudonym of a journalist based in Almaty