Kazakh prosecutors have sentenced the head of the National Press Club of Kazakhstan and his son to several years in prison on embezzlement and tax evasion charges, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said on October 10.
Human rights defenders have described the arrest as politically motivated, suggesting the authorities were trying to send a message to journalists since the arrest was made one month before the parliamentary elections in March 2016. “Their charges have been dismissed a reprisal measure by the authorities because of the journalists’ independent reporting,” the IFJ said in a statement.
Seytkazy Matayev, who owns local news agency KazTAG, and his son Aset, were arrested in February. Prosecutors accused the Matayevs, both of whom denied any wrongdoing, of embezzling about $1mn in funds transferred to them by a government agency and state-controlled KazakhTelecom under a contract to write promotional stories about national policies.
Seitkazy was sentenced to six years of prison, while Aset was sentenced to five years. The authorities have also asked to seize the journalists’ property, including the National Press Club, and banned Aset Matayev from conducting any business activity for three years.
Prior to the October 3 court ruling, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on authorities to drop all charges against the two journalists. “The Kazakh government is only shaming itself with this prosecution and detention of a father-son team of independent journalists,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement. “The Matayevs' outlets provide a much-needed platform for alternative news and information in Kazakhstan.”
Kazakh media is deemed “not free” by the Washington-based human rights and media watchdog Freedom House. Kazakhstan was ranked 181th out of 199 countries worldwide on Freedom House press freedom ranking for 2016.
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