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2005-05-24 05:21:00
US Office Almaty
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						UNCLAS  ALMATY 001953 




E.O. 12958: N/A

Ref: A) Almaty 545; B) Almaty 794

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. On May 5, the information ministry
ordered Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan's (DCK) weekly
newspaper "Respublika: Business Review" to stop publishing.
It revoked the weekly's registration after filing suit in
February following Respublica's republication of the
transcript of an interview with Russian ultra-nationalist
Vladimir Zhirinovskiy. The ministry said the article
incited inter-ethnic discord, and undermined national
security. After a series of legal maneuvers, the paper re-
appeared as Syet'.kz on May 13, and foiled ministry
attempts to confiscate printed copies May 20. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) On May 4, the Committee of Information and
Archives of the Ministry of Culture, Information, and Sport
ordered the weekly Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK)
newspaper Respublika: Business Review (circulation 40,000)
to stop publishing, and revoked its registration. The
committee's decree followed two previous court rulings
demanding the liquidation of the newspaper's parent
company, Bastau, Ltd. The first ruling against Bastau was
handed down on March 25 by Almaty's inter-district economic
court; Almaty's municipal court upheld the original ruling
May 4 on appeal.



Respublika: Public Needed to Know Zhirinovskiy's Comments



3. (SBU) The information ministry filed suit February 25
against Respublika for printing the transcript of a January
18 Ekho Moskviy interview with Russian Duma vice speaker
Vladimir Zhirinovskiy. In the interview Zhirinovskiy said
that Kazakhstan was legally Russian territory, and that
Kazakh was an invented language. The ministry claimed
Respublika's article propagandized "the ethnic superiority
of one nationality over another and undermined the
territorial integrity and national security of Kazakhstan."
Respublika's preface to their January 20 transcript said
the public had a right to know what Zhirinovskiy was
saying, and should think about how such remarks might
affect Russian-Kazakhstani relations in the future. Deputy
editor-in-chief Galina Dyrdina said the paper was simply
performing its duty to inform the public.


Info Ministry Decides to "Shoot the Messenger"



4. (SBU) Public and official outrage against Zhirinovskiy
played out in a series of events over the course of a
month, culminating in the ministry's "shoot the messenger"
lawsuit. On January 30 angry citizens in Almaty

demonstrated in front of the Russian consulate and burned
copies of the interview; February 2 Majilis (lower house of
parliament) deputies issued a formal statement condemning
Zhirinovskiy; February 9 Kazakhstan's Prosecutor General
asked his Russian counterpart to punish Zhirinovsky for
inciting ethnic hatred between Russians and Kazakhs and for
insulting the dignity of the Kazakh people; February 10
Kazakhstan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared
Zhirinovskiy persona non grata; and February 25 the
information ministry filed suit.


Respublika Maneuvers to Survive


5. (SBU) While the information ministry was pursuing its
case in the courts, Respublika employed legal maneuvers of
its own to ensure its survival. On March 14, eight days
before the inter-district economic court ruling, the
newspaper's managers legally transferred ownership from
Bastau, Ltd. to New Pi Ar, Ltd. When the city court on
appeal ordered the liquidation of Bastau on May 4, that
company was no longer the newspaper's owner. Moreover, the
ruling against Bastau did not specifically order the paper
not to publish. As for the information ministry's decree,
Respublika lawyer Sergey Utkin said the information
ministry does not have the legal authority to close the
paper because, per article 13 of the law on mass media,
only a newspaper's owner or the court has the authority to

do that.


"Who Needed to Close Respublika?"


6. (SBU) After the decision by the information ministry,
Respublika took a week off, then re-appeared May 13 under
the name, Syet'.kz ("net"). A front page article
headlined, "Who Needed to Close Respublika?", claimed that
efforts to close the paper were retaliation for articles
alleging that Almaty akim (and former prime minister)
Imangali Tasmagambetov and Otan party deputy chairman
Amangeldi Yermegiyaev had embezzled funds from the state
railroad enterprise, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ).
Previous articles reported on payments from the Russian
government to Kazakhstan for renting the Baikonur space
complex in Kazakhstan. Under the terms of the rental
agreement, Russia was to deliver $65 million worth of
railroad construction equipment to KTZ. According to the
reports, the goods actually delivered were worth much less,
and Kazakhstani government officials who administered the
deal pocketed the difference.

7. The following week, city police attempted to block
distribution of the May 20 issue of Syet'.kz for several
hours, ostensibly because the paper was not registered with
the information ministry. Once again, the paper outwitted
the authorities. Syet'.kz registered with the information
ministry late in 2003 and, as required by law, issued one
paper in 2004 within six months of registering, and sent a
copy to the ministry. In the end, the May 20 edition was
distributed, when Utkin produced the official ministry
receipt of 2004 issue.

8. (SBU). COMMENT: Observers have no doubt that the
attempts to silence Respublika are politically-motivated,
following the court orders closing DCK (reftel A) and Soz,
another DCK paper (reftel B). The information ministry's
lawsuit was seen as a flimsy pretext, criticized by
Kazakhstani and international media advocates and even pro-
government political leaders. Whether the latest lawsuit
was tied to the paper's investigative reporting is

9. (SBU) COMMENT Cont'd: The paper known variously as
Respublika, Assandi Times, Respublika: Business Review and
now Syet'.kz will continue to publish and provoke, but the
question is, what the provocations will yield next. In
2004 the Assandi Times was hit with a 50 million tenge
($370,000) fine - the largest ever awarded - for "defaming
the reputation of the presidential administration." In
2002 editor-in-chief Irina Petrushova fled to Russia after
the newspaper's Almaty offices were firebombed and a dog's
head with a threatening note was left at her home. Last
month Petrushova was detained for tax evasion for two days
in Russia at the request of Kazakhstani authorities. She
was released following wide reporting of the arrest, and
after the Moscow prosecutor said she was being detained
improperly. In the course of these battles the paper has
become the standard bearer for Kazakhstan's opposition
media, and attracted the attention of national and
international media advocates that publicize each
encounter. Whatever happens next, media advocates will be
watching and sounding the alarm.

10. (U) Minimize for Dushanbe considered.