Discussions on persecution of independent media and political opposition in Central Asia, and hostages of the Kremlin at the OSCE PA in Vienna

On Thursday, 25 February 2016, the Open Dialog Foundation and the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty organised a working lunch dedicated to the topic of persecution of independent media and political opposition in Central Asia. The side-event of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Winter Meeting was hosted by the Spanish Member of the Parliament, Mr Ignacio Sánchez Amor (the Socialist Workers’ Party).

The report on the recent cases of clampdown on freedom of speech carried out by Kazakh authorities, including these of Nakanune online portal in Kazakhstan, Respublika media outlet in the United States, and the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Turkmenistan were discussed. 

The participants, mostly Members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, diplomats from the OSCE member states' missions and delegations and a representative of the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, were presented with an overview of the legal actions undertaken by Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan against the independent journalists, bloggers and political oppositionists who have been publishing articles inconvenient for the authorities and in Kazakhstan focusing on massive corruption and tools used to persecute the political opposition and civil society in the country and abroad. 

Some of these publications, based on the disclosed correspondence of high-level Kazakh politicians and public officials, which served as the basis for the so called "KazakhLeaks" scandal, were presented in details by Lyudmyla Kozlovska, President of the Open Dialog Foundation. 

The current situation of Nakanune's journalists Gyuzyal Baydalinova and Yulia Kozlova, accused of 'spreading false information' and currently facing between 3 and 7 years' imprisonment, was highlighted by Irina Petrushova, editor-in-chief of Respublika, in 2002 awarded the International Award for Press Freedom by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Petrushova described also how the Kazakh authorities, with the support of two law firms in the states of New York (Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP; concerns the federal law) and California (Reed Smith LLP; concerns the state law), have been misusing the American anti-hacking law. She explained the audience how the Computer Fraud And Abuse Act serves for the Kazakh government as a tool of persecution against the Kazakh independent journalists having their websites and social media profiles on the American web servers.

Moreover, Muhammad Tahir, Director of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Turkmen Service, presented i.a. the case of Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, contributor to the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Turkmen Service and correspondent for Alternative Turkmenistan News, who has been held incommunicado by Turkmen authorities since July 2015.

Following the presentations, the participants discussed what actions should be taken by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and its members.

The need of more active role of the parliamentarians and diplomats, as well as the significance of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement were raised. As the EPCA between the EU and Kazakhstan, signed recently in December 2015 in Astana, is awaiting its ratification by the European Parliament and the national parliaments of the EU member states, the guests agreed that it shouldn't be possible until Kazakhstan fulfils its international human rights obligations. Additionally, in its recommendations, the Open Dialog Foundation urged for amendment of Kazakh legislation and removal of overtly political articles on 'incitement of national or social discord', 'defamation' and 'spreading false information'.

Additionally, a delegation of the Open Dialog Foundation and the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty representatives and guests met with Isabel Santos and Ivana Dobesova, Chair and Vice-Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, as well as with several other members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

The latest report "28 hostages of the Kremlin", prepared jointly with the EuroMaidan SOS initiative and the Centre for Civil Liberties, as a part of the "LetMyPeopleGo" advocacy campaign, was also presented.

"28 hostages of the Kremlin" details cases of mainly Ukrainian citizens, illegal detained and imprisoned in Russia or on the occupied territories of Crimea. It draws attention to the political character of their unlawful detention, as well as, often, inhumane and degrading treatment, including physical abuse, psychological pressure, lack of medical treatment and lack of access to a lawyer.

The recent statements of the international organizations and other human rights NGOs on media freedom in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and particularly the Nakanune, Respublika and the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's cases are available below:

More information on the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Winter Meeting 2016 are HERE.