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

Nazarbaev Claims 'Third Force' at Work

Kazak president believes the beating of a prominent opposition journalist was designed to discredit him.
By Arkhat Ashmetov

An attack on the well-known journalist and opposition activist this week has drawn widespread condemnation from both inside and outside the country.


Robert Menard, secretary-general of the press group Reporters Without Borders, said the country was becoming more and more dangerous for independent journalists who criticise President Nursultan Nazarbaev or any aspect of his regime.


But presidential advisers have claimed the assault on Sergei Duvanov was the work of a "third force" within the government that's determined to undermine Nazarbaev and take control of the republic.


Yevgeni Zhovtis, director of the Kazak Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, KBHRL, told IWPR, "If it is a 'third force' - those in the echelons of power vying for influence - it is a bad message for Nazarbaev.


"It means that he is not able to control his own circle and this makes the whole situation in Kazakstan more unpredictable and dangerous."


The journalist was badly beaten around the head with a heavy object by three unknown assailants, in the stairwell of his house, on Wednesday. Robbery was not a motive, as his wallet, keys and mobile phone were untouched. He was taken unconscious to hospital, where he was diagnosed as suffering from craniocerebral trauma.


His attackers also slashed his chest, and reportedly told him, "You know what this is for - next time we'll cripple you." He is still in hospital in a serious but stable condition.


At this moment, analysts are divided over whether the attack was directed against the opposition or the work of Nazarbaev rivals seeking to discredit him.


Duvanov is an opposition activist and editor of KBHRL's human rights bulletin. He regularly denounces the government for cracking down on both its critics and the independent media.


Nearly two months ago, the National Security Committee, the successor to the KGB, launched a criminal case against the journalist, charging him with impugning the president in an article titled "Silence of The Lambs", which detailed an alleged corruption scandal involving foreign bank accounts.


The authorities have issued their own condemnation of the attack on Duvanov.


Analysts believe that the government fears it will be the prime suspect following its decision to prosecute the reporter.


Nazarbaev expressed his "profound concern" over the assault and announced that it was nothing less than another provocation designed to smear him and undermine his authority.


"I have talked several times about the presence of a 'third force' in Kazakstan, which is conducting a large-scale campaign to discredit the head of state. Now I have become convinced once and for all that I am right," said presidential adviser Ermykhamet Ertysbaev. "If the bandits are not be found, then this 'third force' may in the near future come to power with all the ensuing consequences."


Nazarbaev has instructed Interior Minister Kairbek Suliemenov to take charge of the investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice with the help of the National Security Committee.


Duvanov's case is the latest in a long line of attacks on representatives of the opposition and media in Kazakstan. Over the last three or four years, Pyotr Svoik, the leader of the Azamat party; Amirjan Kosanov, leader of the Republic People's Party of Kazakstan; journalist Guljan Ergalieva and - recently - well-known television host Artur Platonov have been involved in violent incidents.


Human rights groups and non-governmental organisations have pointed the finger at law enforcement agencies in each case.


Arkhat Ashmetov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Almaty


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