Kazakhstan: Attack on journalists’ rights advocate must be properly investigated

429
Ramazan Yesergepov

Journalists’ rights advocate Ramazan Yesergepov was viciously attacked in Kazakhstan on 14 May 2017 as he was on his way to the capital, Astana to meet with EU diplomats. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) urges the EU and other international actors to raise concerns about this attack and to insist on a thorough and impartial investigation into it with a view to bringing those responsible to justice.

According to Ramazan Yesergepov’s own account, early on 14 May, he was assaulted and stabbed in the abdomen several times by two unknown perpetrators in the vestibule of the coach in which he was travelling on the overnight train from Almaty to Astana. When the train reached the closest station, in the city of Shu in the Jambyl region, he was hospitalized in a serious condition after losing a considerable amount of blood and underwent surgery.

When the attack took place, Ramazan Yesergepov  – who is chair of the NGO Journalists in Danger and member of the Committee for the Protection of Journalist Zhanbolat Mamay – was on his way to Astana, where he was going to meet with EU member state ambassadors on 15 May to discuss issues concerning the rights of journalists. In particular, he was planning to discuss the case of journalist Zhanbolat Mamay, who is currently in pre-trial detention on money laundering charges believed to be politically motivated, as well as the failure of the Kazakhstani authorities to comply with a decision by the UN Human Rights Committee in his own case.

Police has confirmed that an investigation has been opened into the attack on Yesergepov for attempted murder (Criminal Code articles 24 and 99).

There are serious grounds to believe that Ramazan Yesergepov may have been attacked because of his struggle for justice in his own case, as well as in the case of other journalists and civil society activists. The Committee for the Protection of Journalist Zhanbolat Mamay, which was set up by a group of well-known human rights defenders, journalists and public figures earlier this year, issued a statement on 16 May voicing alarm about the attack on Yesergepov. The statement concluded that the fact that Yesergepov was assaulted when he was on his way to meet with EU diplomats gives reason to assume that the attack may have been aimed at foiling his meeting with them and at intimidating him in this context. The statement also expressed concern that investigators questioning Yesergepov asserted that the attack was the result of an argument that he supposedly had with co-passengers at the railway station in Almaty when boarding the train, although Yesergepov and his son (who accompanied him to the railway station) have denied that any altercation took place.

Yesergepov himself has also said that he believes that the attack was politically motivated and carried out with the purpose of intimidating him.

Against this background, it is particularly important that the EU and other international actors call on the Kazakhstani authorities to ensure that the attack on Ramazan Yesergepov is properly investigated with due consideration of the possibility that he was targeted because of his civic engagement and rights advocacy.

Previously chief editor of independent weekly Alma-Ata Info, Ramazan Yesergepov was sentenced to three years in prison in 2009 on spurious charges of disclosing state secrets that were brought against him after he published information about the correspondence by security service officials in a tax evasion case. He was released from prison only after serving out this sentence in 2012, after which he has been engaged in efforts to obtain justice in relation to his imprisonment. In a decision issued last year in response to a complaint filed by Yesergepov, the United Nations Human Rights Committee concluded that his right to a fair trial had been violated during the proceedings that resulted in his imprisonment. Yesergepov filed a complaint with court, seeking implementation of the Committee’s decision: after the complaint was rejected by lower courts, he turned to the Supreme Court shortly before embarking on his trip to Astana. Yesergepov has also campaigned for the rights of other journalists and civil society activists in his capacity as chair of the board of the NGO Journalists in Danger, head of the Zhanaozen 2011 Committee set up in support of the victims of the Zhanaozen events, and founding member of the recently established Committee for the Protection of Journalist Zhanbolat Mamay. Since his release in 2012, he has not worked as a journalist.

On 16 May 2017, Ramazan Yesergepov was transferred to a hospital in Almaty for further treatment. His current condition has been deemed satisfactory by doctors.

***

For more information about the current worrying civil society and free speech climate in Kazakhstan, see the following publications:

Escalating campaign against critical voices amid constitutional reform, April 2017
Threats to civic space in Kazakhstan, February 2017
Briefing paper on fundamental rights in Kazakhstan, November 2016