09ASTANA744, KAZAKHSTAN: “TASZHARGAN” EDITOR ARRESTED AND RELEASED,

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09ASTANA744 2009-04-29 10:26 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO7219
OO RUEHNEH
DE RUEHTA #0744/01 1191026
ZNR UUUUU ZZHZDF
O 291026Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5294
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 1548
RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0925
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1628
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 0612
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2306
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2636
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 2050
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 1110
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 1024
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 000744 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KDEM OSCE KZ
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN:  "TASZHARGAN" EDITOR ARRESTED AND RELEASED, 
PAPER CEASES PUBLICATION 
 
REF: (A) ASTANA 0715 
      (B) ASTANA 0545 
 (C) ASTANA 0479 
 (D) ASTANA 0431 
 (E) ASTANA 0006 
 
ASTANA 00000744  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
1.  (U) Sensitive but unclassified.  Not for public Internet. 
 
2.  (SBU) SUMMARY:  Yermurat Bapi, editor of the opposition 
newspaper "Taszhargan," was arrested on April 23 for failing to pay 
a 30 million tenge ($200,000) court-ordered damage award to a 
parliamentarian, but was released the same day after the Almaty 
procurator's office protested his detention.  Bapi's quick release 
was reportedly the result of an unexpected intervention from 
President Nazarbayev's daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva.  We were told 
she intervened to prevent the case from marring her Eurasian Media 
Forum -- an international media conference which was taking place in 
Almaty at the time of the arrest (ref A).  Civil society activists 
sharply criticized the arrest as an act of political pressure 
against independent media.  Following his release, Bapi sent a 
letter to various government agencies and diplomatic missions, 
including this Embassy, announcing his intention to cease 
publication of "Taszhargan," lest it create a risk for his 
colleagues, and claiming that the excessive fine levied against him 
was part of a campaign to suppress freedom of speech in Kazakhstan. 
He later confirmed to us that "Taszhargan" has ceased publication, 
and said he will begin publishing a new paper, under a different 
name, at the beginning of May.  END SUMMARY. 
 
EDITOR ARRESTED AND RELEASED 
 
3.  (SBU) (SBU) Yermurat Bapi, editor of the opposition newspaper 
"Taszhargan," was arrested and sentenced to five days in jail on 
April 23 for disobeying a court order to apologize and pay damages 
to Romin Madinov, a member of the Mazhilis, the lower house of 
Kazakhstan's parliament.  Bapi was released the same day after the 
Almaty procurator's office protested his detention.  On February 26, 
the Almaty City Court -- an appellate body -- had ordered Bapi to 
pay 30 million tenge ($200,000) in compensation for emotional 
damages to Madinov, increasing ten-fold a district court's January 
decision to grant Madinov 3 million tenge ($20,000) in damages (refs 
D and E).  As reported previously, the judgment against "Taszhargan" 
stems from an article that referred to Madinov as a "land baron" and 
implied that he was involved in shady business activities (ref E). 
Bapi planned to take the case to Kazakhstan's Supreme Court, but 
that appeal has been delayed for technical reasons. 
 
INTERVENTION FROM POWERS THAT BE? 
 
4.  (SBU) Bapi's quick release from custody was reportedly aided by 
an intervention from a higher power, President Nazarbayev's 
daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva.  His arrest coincided with the opening 
in Almaty of the Eurasian Media Forum, a large international media 
conference organized by Nazarbayeva and co-sponsored by CNN and the 
"International Herald Tribune" (ref A).  We understand from contacts 
who attended the conference that Rozlana Taukina, head of the NGO 
Journalists in Danger, approached Nazarbayeva regarding Bapi's 
arrest and asked her to intervene, arguing that it was poor optics 
for the Forum.  Nazarbayeva reportedly then "made a phone call" -- 
and Bapi was released shortly afterwards. 
 
CIVIL SOCIETY SURPRISED BY THE ARREST 
 
5.  (SBU) Tamara Kaleyeva, the director of media watch-dog NGO Adil 
Soz, ascribed Bapi's arrest to the wish of some "mid-level 
bureaucrats to make a name for themselves on a high-profile case." 
She joked that the Kazakhstani government could have picked a 
"better time" to arrest Bapi, i.e., sometime other than during the 
Media Forum.  Kaleyeva reiterated her view that the "Taszhargan" 
ruling contradicts the law since the courts must take into account 
the finances of a media outlet in assessing damages in libel cases. 
She argued that the case is "a warning to other journalists." 
Almaty Helsinki Committee head Ninel Fokina said she was "shocked" 
 
ASTANA 00000744  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
to hear about Bapi's arrest.  Court judgments against construction 
companies that embezzled the funds of their investors have 
languished for years, she argued, and yet Bapi is asked to come up 
with the full sum "a mere two months after the court's decision." 
 
"TASZHARGAN" CEASES PUBLICATION 
 
6.  (SBU) On April 23, Bapi sent a letter to various government 
agencies and diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Embassy, 
announcing his intention to cease publicati
on of "Taszhargan."  "I 
do not want to create any risks for my friends, journalists, and 
their families," wrote Bapi.  He claimed that the government, and 
possibly even President Nazarbayev, is behind the court decision to 
impose the heavy fine on the newspaper, which he insisted was the 
result of legitimate article reporting on corruption and the need 
for democratic reform.  (COMMENT:  The article did not actually 
directly touch on the issue of democratic reform.  END COMMENT.) 
Bapi maintained that the damage award was beyond the financial means 
of any independent publication, and called on the international 
community to protest the "campaign to suppress freedom of speech in 
Kazakhstan." 
 
7.  (SBU) Bapi confirmed to us on April 28 that "Taszhargan" has 
ceased publication.  He said that he will begin publishing a new 
newspaper, under a different name, at the beginning of May.  He is 
fairly certain that this strategy will help him avoid paying the 
fine since the court judgment was technically against "Taszhargan" 
and not Bapi personally.  This is the fifth time that Bapi closed a 
newspaper and established a new one to avoid paying compensation in 
libel cases or what he calls "excessive taxes." 
 
8.  (SBU) COMMENT:  Bapi has not yet exhausted all the legal 
remedies available, and it is possible that the judgment against 
"Taszhargan" will be overturned by the Supreme Court.  Even if it 
isn't, it looks like Bapi will succeed, as he has done in the past, 
in continuing his work by opening up a new paper under a different 
name -- an indication of what a strange cat and mouse game this is. 
In a March 5 letter to Foreign Minister Tazhin on the "Taszhargan" 
case, OSCE Freedom of the Media Representative Miklos Haraszti 
explained that in accordance with OSCE commitments and Council of 
Europe standards, damage awards in defamation cases "should not 
bankrupt or endanger" media outlets.  The Ambassador stressed this 
very point in a March 10 meeting with Presidential Human Rights 
Commission Chairman Saginbek Tursunov.  We should consider raising 
the issue of excessive fines for libel again during Foreign Minister 
Tazhin's May 4-5 visit to Washington.  END COMMENT. 
 
HOAGLAND

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