07ASTANA3011, KAZAKHSTAN: GOVERNMENT CONTINUES CRACKDOWN AGAINST

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07ASTANA3011 2007-11-06 02:12 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO8610
RR RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDBU RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHPW RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #3011/01 3100212
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 060212Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1091
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0289
RUCNCLS/SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 1840
RUEHAST/USOFFICE ALMATY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 003011 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/CEN (M. O'MARA) 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM PREL KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN: GOVERNMENT CONTINUES CRACKDOWN AGAINST 
OPPOSITION MEDIA 
 
REF: Astana 2935 
 
ASTANA 00003011  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
1. (SBU) Summary:  Kazakhstani law enforcement initiated a 
harassment campaign last week against four opposition newspapers 
that recently published stories about Rakhat Aliyev that included 
transcripts of recordings of embarrassing telephone conversations 
among high-level government officials.   Four opposition newspapers 
were investigated October 30-31 for purported tax and regulatory 
violations.  Printers refused to print editions of two of the 
papers.  This followed the blockage of four independent media 
websites that began October 18 (reftel). Minister of Culture and 
Information Yermukhamet Yertysbayev told newspaper editors November 
1 that they could resume publication only if they stopped publishing 
materials from Aliyev or related to the transcripts, and must also 
avoid insulting the dignity and honor of President Nazarbayev.  The 
editors agreed, apparently reluctantly, and the papers resumed 
publication.  End summary. 
 
-------------------------------------------- 
GOVERNMENT INTERFERES WITH OPPOSITION PAPERS 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
2. (U) Government agents visited the offices of four opposition 
newspapers (Svoboda Slova, Respublica, Tas Zhargan, and Vzglyad) 
during October 30-31.  In three cases, agents from the financial 
police and tax committee informed the newspapers that they were 
under investigation for breaking the law, hiding financial assets, 
and underpaying taxes.  They attempted to seize financial records 
and questioned newspaper staff.  In a fourth case, fire inspectors 
surveyed one paper's offices and alleged that the offices were in 
violation of the fire code. 
 
3. (U) Representatives of the four opposition newspapers held a 
press conference in Almaty on October 31 to publicize the 
harassment.  The editor-in-chief of Svoboda Slova said five Almaty 
printing houses had refused to print the paper on October 30.  The 
Tas Zhargan representative said their printing house refused to 
print the paper, supposedly because its printing equipment was 
broken, and could not be fixed for 1 1/2 or two months. 
 
4. (SBU) All four said the harassment was related to publication of 
information about Rakhat Aliyev and the release of transcripts of 
recordings of embarrassing telephone conversations between 
high-level government officials.  (Comment:  There appears to be 
little doubt that the source of the audio recordings, which appeared 
on a Russian internet site, is Aliyev.)  In their view, the 
government is panicking about the situation and trying to stop the 
flow of information from Aliyev.  Galina Dyrdina, editor of 
Respublika, said that the government was particularly worried about 
the possible release of new information concerning the February 2006 
murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev.  (Comment: 
Aliyev's suggestion of Nazarbayev's involvement in the Sarsenbayev 
murder, further amplified at this press conference, has likely 
infuriated the GOK.) 
 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
MINISTER TO EDITORS: OBEY ME OR STOP PUBLISHING 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
5. (SBU) On November 1, Minister of Information and Culture 
Yertysbayev flew down to Almaty to meet with the newspaper editors 
and the editor of the zonakz.net website, which had been blocked 
within Kazakhstan earlier in the month along with three other 
opposition websites (reftel).   Several of the editors told us in 
confidence that Yertysbayev informed them that if they wished to 
continue working, they must cease publication of all materials from 
"the criminal and murderer Rakhat Aliyev," including the transcripts 
and/or audio files of conversations between high-ranking officials. 
He also demanded that the newspapers not publish materials 
"insulting the honor and dignity of President Nazarbayev." 
 
6. (SBU) The editors argued that only a court could decide whether 
Aliyev was a "criminal and murderer" and that they were also 
printing materials critical of Aliyev and his allegations.  They 
said they feared the demand about not criticizing President 
Nazarbayev would be expanded to other officials.  Yertysbayev said 
that he would not expand his conditions.  In the face of 
Yertysbayev's pressure, the editors agreed to the conditions. In 
return, Yertysbayev promised the government would cease interference 
with the publication of the newspapers.  On November 2, the 
Respublika newspaper was published as usual, and at least one of the 
web sites is again available. 
 
7. (SBU) The day after his meeting with the editors, Yertysbayev 
told the Ambassador during an impromptu encounter in the building 
 
ASTANA 00003011  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
housing Nazarbayev's office that he had had to
"argue hard here" in 
order to get the negotiating authority to offer to get the 
newspapers printed and web sites back online in exchange for 
stopping publication of what he termed "illegal transcripts" of 
intercepted telephone conversations. 
 
------------------------------------ 
OPPOSITION WEBSITES REMAINED BLOCKED 
------------------------------------ 
 
8. (SBU) In the meantime, Kazakhstani Internet users remain unable 
to access three of the four independent/opposition-oriented websites 
that were blocked beginning October 18 (Reftel).  Among the four, 
only zonakz.net was accessible to Kazakhstani users as of November 
5.  On October 31, the Agency for Information and Communications, 
which regulates domain names and other Internet issues in 
Kazakhstan, released a statement indicating that it had suspended 
several Internet sites with the "kz" domain name for violating 
Kazakhstan's regulation requiring such domain name users to have 
servers physically based in Kazakhstan.  The statement said that the 
suspensions, which included the opposition sites www.kub.kz and 
www.geo.kz, were part of a routine investigation and had nothing to 
do with the content of the websites.  The statement also claimed 
that neither the Agency for Information and Communications nor any 
other agency had taken action against non-kz websites.  However, 
while, as noted above, www.zonakz.net is currently accessible, 
www.inkar.info remains blocked. (Note: inkar.info has its server 
abroad.  It is freely accessible from outside Kazakhstan, and 
Kazakhstani Internet users may access it through proxy servers.  In 
addition, the owners of www.kub.kz and www.geo.kz established new 
sites using servers based outside of Kazakhstan, www.kub.info and 
www.geokz.net respectively.  End note.) 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
9. (SBU) Comment: Aliyev is, for now, the big winner in this latest 
round of intra-elite warfare.  The release of damaging accusations 
and audio files (the latter almost certainly from Aliyev) unnerved 
the highest echelons of the government and provoked a targeted 
crackdown on the press that is the most serious since the 2005 
presidential election campaign.  Abroad, the substance of the audio 
files and the resulting government crackdown enhance Aliyev's 
unwarranted credibility as a critic and victim of the regime in 
Kazakhstan.  Aliyev has simultaneously improved his bargaining 
position vis-a-vis President Nazarbayev, and created a temptation he 
knew Nazarbayev would find irresistible to crack down on the media - 
undercutting Kazakhstan's already less-than-stellar reputation for 
media freedom during the final stages of OSCE's consideration of the 
country's bid for the chairmanship.  As was the case in 2005 when 
the opposition press reported on Nazarbayev's involvement in the 
Giffen case, the authorities resorted to high-handed actions to 
close off public access to what they considered a sensitive subject. 
 In neither case, however, was muzzling the press particularly 
effective at limiting knowledge of the situation - nor did it have a 
broader chilling impact on the independent and opposition press that 
continues its sharp criticism of the government on a wide range of 
issues.  End comment. 
 
ORDWAY

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