Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kazakstan: TV Host 'Beaten'

A well-known television journalist seems to have become the latest casualty in a conflict between powerful political groups.
By Timur Jagiparov

A prominent Kazak journalist and broadcaster, who was allegedly beaten up by former police officers, appears to be the victim of a new clash between rival government factions.


Local analysts see the assault on Artur Platonov - who works for the KTK channel, which has links to President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law, Rakhat Aliev - as a sign that the struggle between Aliev supporters and their opponents is turning into an open confrontation.


The heads of KTK's parent company Alma-Media Holding held a press conference on August 19 where they claimed that the attack was planned, and pointed the finger at the police. The chairwoman of the holding board of directors, President Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbaeva, said, "I couldn't stay on the sidelines of this conflict. These sorts of incidents are acquiring a systematic nature."


Unlike the confrontation between the government and the opposition - which Kazaks have long been used to - this one seems to be between different factions within the regime: namely Aliev's circle of businessmen and government associates and senior officials who begrudged his tenure as deputy national security minister.


Kazak analysts believe Platonov was targeted because of his reports on corruption within the interior ministry, which is thought to be under the control of Aliev's rival.


Rozlana Taukina, the president of the Association for Independent Media, told IWPR that factional clashes within the government are becoming increasingly public, "and more and more often, the victims are journalists".


According to the managers of Alma-Media, Platonov - one of the most famous journalists in Kazakstan and the host of the Sunday current affairs programme Portrait of the Week - was beaten up late at night on August 16, 2002.


They allege that when he returned home he found a car blocking the entrance to his yard. Three men jumped out. Platonov locked the doors of his vehicle but did not manage to close the windows, and the assailants started beating him.


Shortly afterwards, his father - a former policeman - ran into the yard when he heard his cries for help. He immediately recognised one of the men as his former colleague Serik Utkelov, a colonel in the internal ministry. The others, also ex-officers, were later identified as Abutalip Ayapov and Jumat Ibraimkhanov.


The three men - who have not been charged - have also given their side of the story.


They say Platonov's car cut in front of theirs when they were driving along a street. When they got out to talk to him, he sprayed them with an aerosol, then locked his doors and called for help.


The former policemen said the incident was resolved without incident after Utkelov met Platonov's father.


Several opposition publications have suggested that the assault was less an attack on journalistic independence than an indirect warning to Aliev that he hasn't been forgiven for his conduct while holding down powerful government posts.


The first deputy head of the City Internal Affairs Department, Nauryzbai Kadyrgojaev, said there were no plans to charge the alleged assailants, " The police do not intend to open a criminal case until all the circumstances of the incident have been clarified. Article 257 - hooliganism - does not stipulate imprisonment."


Dariga Nazarbaevf, the president's daughter, suggested the incident was the latest in a series of violent acts against the KTK channel - which included an assault on one of the station's drivers and an arson attack on its financial director - and that none of the perpetrators have been brought to book.


Launched in the early 90s, the channel was soon acquired by Boris Giller, a well-known businessman in Kazakstan at the time. In 1999, on the eve of a snap presidential election, it was bought along with other media by a group of businessmen close to the president's family.


Sultan-khan Jusip, a reporter with Radio Liberty's Kazak service, says Aliev, who at that time was deputy national security minister, began to use the station "as a tool to pressure well-known entrepreneurs and successful businessmen, whose shares Aliev bought by force".


After calls from several government members and influential business people, who later joined the movement Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, Aliev was removed from the security ministry post. And after this, pressure on KTK began to increase.


"While Aliev was in the national security ministry, he made a lot of enemies. Firstly, he was not part of the political system, and they don't like people like that there. Secondly, he lobbied for the interests of his businesses, using the ministry for his own ends. He also fired a lot of senior staff employees," said a high-ranking interior ministry official.


The Platonov case has provoked international condemnation. The press group Reporters Without Borders called on the interior ministry to carefully investigate the affair. Its secretary-general, Robert M