Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s decision by a provincial appeal court in the western city of Oral to uphold a lower court ruling under which newspaper reporter Lukpan Akhmedyarov would have to pay a local official 5 million tenges (30,000 euros) in damages.
The press freedom organization urges Kazakhstan’s supreme court to overturn this ruling, especially as it would have a major intimidatory effect on independent and opposition media, which are being harassed more and more.
The decision ordering Akhmedyarov to pay this exorbitant sum in damages was issued by the lower court on 20 July in a defamation case brought by Tlekkabyl Imashev, a high-ranking local official.
Akhmedyarov is to receive the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism at a ceremony in Washington on 12 October. The prize is awarded jointly by Global Media Forum and Reporters Without Borders.
26.07.2012 - Court orders opposition journalist to pay regional official 30,000 euros
A Kazakh court on 20 July ordered the eminent opposition journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov, founder of the newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya, to pay a fine of 5 million tenge (approx. 30,000 euros) to the head of the internal political department of the West Kazakhstan administrative district, Tlekkabyl Imashev.
“We are disgusted by this disproportionate fine, which is clearly intended to strangle the journalist financially,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“He has barely recovered from his injuries. It is unacceptable that a journalist can be convicted for having merely highlighted the family ties between political leaders. This persecution must end immediately. We call for the fine to be annulled and all the charges against Lukpan Akhmedyarov to be dropped.”
The verdict, pronounced by Judge Batykgul Baimagambetova in No. 2 Court in the north-western city of Uralsk, was in response to a complaint lodged by Imashev against Akhmedyarov in April.
The latter accused the journalist of trying to damage his reputation in an article headline “Brother, friend and cronyism” published on 2 February, in which Akhmedyarov disclosed the family ties between Imashev and the former prime minister Imangali Tasmagambetov.
A linguistics expert who examined the article concluded that no part of it impugned the dignity or honour of the senior official. Furthermore, an expert from the committee that supervises the health service who was questioned about Imashev’s admission to hospital the day after the article appeared, said he had been on the waiting list for 10 days and his admission was not a result of a shock that he claimed to have suffered on reading the article.
Akhmedyarov has lodged an appeal with the Kazakhstan Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the case in the next few months.