February 25, 2009

Mr. Nursultan Abish-uly Nazarbayev
President of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Office of the President
11 Mira Street
Astana 473000
Mr. Amanzhol Zhankuliyev
Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva
16, Chemin du Prunier
Case postale 6
1218 Grand-Saconnex
Geneva, Switzerland
Fax: +41-22-788-6602
E-mail: mission.kazakstan@ties.itu.int

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our extreme concern regarding the detention of Ramazan Yesergepov.

According to our information, Ramazan Yesergepov, editor-in-chief of the weekly Alma-Ata Info, was being treated for hypertension at the Cardiology Institute in Almaty when armed and masked security officers entered the hospital and took him away on January 6, 2009. Yesergepov was immediately transferred to the Taraz regional office in southern Kazakhstan where he was interrogated by the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB). According to a statement released by the KNB on January 13, Yesergepov was arrested because he repeatedly ignored subpoenas issued by the agency.

The Alma-Ata Info has been under investigation since last December for the disclosure of two leaked memos published alongside an article on November 21, 2008, which dealt with a tax fraud allegation involving a local prosecutor and a judge. KNB officers recently raided the weekly’s newsroom, seizing the hard drives of seven computers. Although Yesergepov has reportedly not yet been charged, he has allegedly been threatened with charges of “disclosure of state secrets,” for which he faces up to eight years in prison, as well as a three-year ban on his professional activities. There are serious concerns that the editor has been denied adequate medical treatment in detention.

Two other assaults against the press have been reported in Kazakhstan in the last year. On January 18, 2009, Yermek Boltai, journalist and editor for the Kazakh service of the news site Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who covers social issues, was beaten by five men outside his home in Almaty. Also in Almaty, Bakhytzhan Nuerpeisov, journalist for the weekly Obshchestvennaya Pozitsiva, was attacked on February 5 while on his way home. The journalist had recently criticized a local authority for its spending on luxury properties, in contrast to the deteriorating economic situation of the residents.

PEN American Center is concerned that the climate for freedom of expression in Kazakhstan is deteriorating, and believes that Ramazan Yesergepov has been detained in contravention of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Kazakhstan is a signatory. We therefore call for Yesergepov’s immediate and unconditional release, and urge the Kazakh authorities to unequivocally condemn all attacks on the independent press and to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of journalists.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hannah Pakula                  
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee  

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

Cc: H.E. Yerlan Idrisov
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kazakhstan
to the USA
Embassy of Kazakhstan in the United States of America    
1401 16th Street, NW
Washington DC 20036
Fax: (202) 232-5845

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