Persistent rumours that Nazarbayev is in poor health are fuelling a bitter behind-the-scenes succession battle. Opposition and independent media, already stifled to a large extent, more than ever pay the price of this corrosive atmosphere.
He has decreed prison sentences for anyone attacking his “honour” and “dignity” and tightened rules for officially registering media outlets. Newspapers can be legally shut down more easily and journalists who work for a suspended publication can be banned from working for three years.
The Internet has also been caught up in this desire for control, to the extent that Kazakhstan has been placed “under surveillance” this year because of its online censorship.
Prosecution of, and physical attacks on journalists and news organizations that report on corruption and the problems faced by the oil industry were already common. However, since the bloody suppression of a riot by oil workers in the city of Zhanaozen last December, pressure on independent media outlets has increased considerably.
Staff members of the newspaper Golos Respubliki and the television station Stan TV, no strangers to harassment by the authorities, are now summoned by the National Security Committee, the KNB, almost on a weekly basis.
Igor Vinyavsky, the editor of the Kazakh daily Vzglyad, was detained for almost two months on trumped-up allegations. Lukpan Akhmedyarov, another journalist and government opponent, narrowly escaped an attempt on his life in April. The end of the Nazarbayev era looks like being even more brutal than its beginning, and he has yet to fire his final shots.