For several years, the couple, Aidos and Natalia Sadykov was persecuted in their homeland due to their journalistic activities. They were forced to leave Kazakhstan, as Natalia faced imprisonment for libel. The journalists request that the international community protect them from political oppression.
Natalia Sadykova was presented with criminal charges for an article which she had not written
On 5 March, 2014, the Court No. 2 in Aktobe opened a criminal case against Natalia Sadykova under Article 129, section 3 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (‘Slander, connected with accusations of corruption, or committing a grave or especially grave crime’). In Kazakhstan, the journalist faces restriction or deprivation of liberty for up to three years. Judge Rauiya Kustanova stated that Natalia Sadykova had been supposedly ‘properly notified’ of the order to appear in court on 7 March, 2014 in order to become familiarised with the case file. However, Natalia claims that she didn’t receive a summons and therefore did not present in court.
In early March, a source in the regional administration warned Natalia Sadykova that an arrest warrant would be issued for her imminently. Therefore, on 9 March, 2014, Natalia and Aidos Sadykov left Kazakhstan for the Russian city of Orenburg, thence to Moscow and finally, on 10 March, 2014, they arrived in Kiev. On 17 March, 2014, Court No. 2 in Aktobe declared Natalia Sadykova wanted and sanctioned for her in absentia a preventive measure in the form of arrest. Aidos and Natalia intend to leave Ukraine in a few months’ time for Poland, where they will seek political asylum.
A former member of the Kazakh Parliament accuses the journalist of libel
The criminal proceedings were instituted on the following a civil case brought by a businessman and former member of the lower house of parliament, Maral Itegulov who demanded that Natalia Sadykova be brought to justice for libel, as well as pay compensation for moral damages in the amount of 10 million tenge (approx. 39,880 euros). As security against the claim for moral damages, the Kazakh court seized Natalia Sadykova’s property, specifically, her apartment.
According to the businessman Maral Itegulov, an article entitled ‘Tenders in Aktobe will not suffice for all”, published on 23 December, 2013 on the ‘Respublika’ [‘The Republic’] online portal, denigrates and defames his honour and reputation. The article states that a struggle for state tenders is going on in Aktobe between Maral Itegulov and Head of the Department of Health of Aktobe Province, Kairat Sabyr. According to the author, in this struggle Maral Itegulov not only uses his own mass media in order to discredit the head of the health department, but also collects signatures under a petition for the resignation of Health Minister Salidat Kairbekova. At the same time, signatures are collected in all major markets and shopping centres in the city of Aktobe, which belong to Maral Itegulov himself. The article also states that Maral Itegulov is seeking the provision of tenders to his own clinic but by means of inspection, the Regional Department of Health found numerous violations and fined the facility. The publication reads that the fight against official, Kairat Sabyr is part of the implementation of Maral Itegulov’s long-standing goal of becoming the Akim of Aktobe Province.
Without any evidence, the court declared the journalist Natalia Sadykova the author of the article
Journalist Natalia Sadykova states that she is the author of a series of articles for the ‘Respublika’ portal, but she denies having written the article ‘Tenders in Aktobe will not suffice for all’, published under the pen name ‘Bakhyt Ilyasova’ and she claims to have nothing to do with it. However, the plaintiff Maral Itegulov argues without any justification that ‘Bakhyt Ilyasova’ is an alias of Natalia Sadykova. Citing expert opinion ‘on the results of the writer identification forensic examination’, the court No. 2 in Aktobe established that the author of the article is allegedly Natalia Sadykova. Still, the court did not name the authors of the expertise or its methodology.
The ‘Respublika’ portal became aware that the Aktobe journalists Tsygankova and Karpova are willing to testify that, allegedly, it is Natalia Sadikova who surreptitiously publishing under the pen name ‘Bakhyt Ilyasova’. Natalia herself argues that these journalists cannot objectively testify, as during their work they are accountable to Maral Itegulov and have no relationship to the ‘Respublika’ portal, through which Natalia Sadikova’s articles were published.
According to Article 9 of the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan ‘On Copyright and Related Rights’, if the author of works does not disclose his or her identity, the representative of the author is deemed to be the publisher. The same is stated in Article 15 of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, ratified by Kazakhstan. However, neither the plaintiff Maral Itegulov nor the court demanded explanations from the management and owners of the ‘Respublika’ portal regarding the content of the article about the tenders. Moreover, on the basis of the sentence handed down to political prisoner Vladimir Kozlov in November 2012, the ‘Respublika’ portal, registered in Russia, was banned and blocked in Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan, access to this portal is only achievable through special programmes which bypass filters blocking such sites. Since the prosecution has not yet made any requests to the ‘Respublika’ portal, there is reason to believe that in this case, the Kazakh authorities are specifically targeting the inconvenient journalist, Natalia Sadykova along with her husband Aidos.
Kazakh authorities are persecuting the Sadykovs for their opposition and journalistick activities
The real reason behind the opening of the criminal case against Natalia Sadykova is her professional activities and those of her husband, Aidos. The Sadykov family noted that in recent years they have constantly been shadowed, with even their telephones being tapped in Kazakhstan. In March 2010, Natalia addressed international human rights organisations, the OSCE and the European Parliament, stating that the continuous threats directed at her are, according to her, masterminded by the leadership of the Aktobe Province. The Kazakh authorities have instituted several criminal cases against Aidos Sadykov and even forced him to submit to involuntary psychiatric treatment. He spent nearly two years in a penal colony, having been convicted on charges which human rights defenders recognised as politically motivated. According to Aidos, the authorities failed to crack down on him for several years, and now they have their hands on his wife Natalia, while Maral Itegulov who filed a lawsuit against Natalia, is merely a pawn in the game of the authorities). Should Natalia Sadykova be imprisoned, Aidos will be left with two toddlers (their daughter Sharliz is 3 years and 3 months old, and the son Chingis is 1 year and 9 months old).
Natalia and Aidos Sadykov write articles and conduct journalistic investigations, which are ‘inconvenient’ for the Kazakh authorities
Natalia Sadykova had previously worked for the Kazakh TV channels ‘Rika TV’, ‘Channel 7’, and more recently along with Aidos she has written articles for the opposition newspapers ‘Respublika’ and ‘Assandi Times’. The Sadykov journalists published materials critical of the Kazakh authorities and pertaining to troublesome topics: the issue of extremism and terrorism, social problems of oil workers in Aktobe Province, corruption scandals, conflicts between regional elites (including the possible involvement of the former head of the Presidential Administration, Aslan Musin, in the worsening of the criminogenic situation and destabilisation of the situation in western regions of Kazakhstan). Aidos Sadykov reported on the high-profile case of Vladislav Chelakh, as well as the politically motivated trials of oil workers of Zhanaozen and opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov.
Upon their arrival in Kiev, Natalia and Aidos Sadykov actively covered events in Ukraine for the opposition Kazakh media outlets and wrote about the phenomenon of the Ukrainian revolution. In their materials, the reporters strove to discredit the Russian propaganda about the Maidan, which was also broadly presented in the official Kazakh media. It is noteworthy that on 20 March, 2014, the Kazakh parliament proposed to amend the Criminal Code by introducing a new Article 162-1 ‘Participation in international armed conflicts’ (it provides for imprisonment for 3 to 7 years). According to the parliamentarians, those citizens of Kazakhstan who for ideological reasons, are involved in ‘foreign armed groups’, will be presented charges under this article. Given the support of Putin’s actions on the part of Nazarbayev, Aidos and Natalia Sadykov fear that soon, the Kazakh authorities will open a new criminal case against them for their coverage of the events in Ukraine.
The political activity and criminal prosecution of Aidos Sadykov
In August 2003, following the publication of journalistic investigations, critical of the authorities, a criminal case was instituted against Aidos Sadykov. He was charged with throwing a fork at a waitress back in 1999. However, witnesses at the trial stated that Aidos had not committed any illegal acts. Still, the court ruled that Aidos be hospitalised for a month in order to undergo involuntary psychiatric examination; based on the results of the examination, he was found ‘non compos mentis’ at the time of the offence in 1999 (although his guilt relating to the illegal acts was not proven).
In 2002, Aidos Sadykov became a member of the opposition party ‘Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan’, which defended the ideals of decentralisation of power, the fight against corruption and protection of human rights. In 2005, Aidos became the head of the Aktobe branch of a new opposition party ‘Nastoyashchiy Ak Zhol’ [‘The True Ak Zhol’] (later, the party merged with the National Social Democratic Party (NSDP) and was named the NSDP ‘Azat’). Aidos Sadykov represented the radical wing and criticised the central leadership of the party for their loyalty to the authorities. Having left the ‘Azat ’party, he established, along with the like-minded people, a civil movement ‘Gastat’. Aidos Sadykov provided assistance to oil workers in establishing independent labour unions in order to defend their social and labour rights, he also organised protests in Aktobe Province, due to which he was brought to administrative responsibility several times, and in January 2010, he was incarcerated for 15 days.
On 16 July, 2010, Aidos Sadykov was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in a general regime penal colony under Article 257, section 2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (‘hooliganism which involved resistance to a representative of authority’). He was convicted of assaulting a former officer of a law enforcement body, B. Musenov and tearing a button from the shirt of E. Shukanov’s police uniform.
The trial was conducted in the shortest possible time (three days) and with numerous violations. A video recording of the incident, which showed that police officers had not been injured, and proved that, Aidos Sadykov had been beaten, was ignored. The court also took into account only evidence given by the victim, excluding the testimony of the witness who testified in favour of Aidos Sadikov. According to Aidos, the policemen wanted to organise a provocation: whilst he was exiting a gym, the former police officer, Musenov began to derogate him, calling for a fight, but the journalist did not succumb to these provocations. Soon after, policemen appeared; they beat Aidos and tried to put Musenov’s mobile phone in Aidos’s pocket. The presence of numerous bruises and abrasions on Aidos’s body was explained by the policemen with the fact that, while being handcuffed, he proceeded to beat himself.
Aidos Sadykov’s associates labelled the accusations ‘politically motivated’, as was later stated in the report of the U.S. government on human rights in Kazakhstan in 2010. All appellate courts of Kazakhstan refused to mitigate the sentence. In April 2012, Aidos Sadykov was amnestied and released from prison after serving 1 year and 9 months. According to Aidos, after his release, he became engaged in civil activities of a semi-clandestine nature, as he and his colleagues were constantly being shadowed by the security services.
Should the Sadykov family return to Kazakhstan, they will be at risk
The last 2 years were perhaps the most difficult for independent media outlets and opposition groups in Kazakhstan, who found themselves on the verge of elimination. Since the Zhanaozen tragedy, Kazakh authorities have confirmed their determination in the fight against political pluralism and dissent in the country. Kazakhstan’s courts have ignored the numerous allegations of torture exerted by the investigating authorities on the convicted oil workers and witnesses in the case of the Zhanaozen tragedy. On 8 October, 2012, opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison with confiscation of property, having been convicted of inciting social discord, calling to overthrow the constitutional order, as well as the establishment and management of a criminal organisation. The European Parliament, the U.S. State Department and international human rights organisations labelled the verdict ‘unfair’ and ‘politically motivated’.
Oppression of independent journalists in Kazakhstan
On the basis of the judgement handed down to the politician Vladimir Kozlov, in November 2012, the courts of Kazakhstan banned the activity of the opposition party ‘Alga!’ and 34 non-state media outlets (the ‘Vzglyad’ [‘The View’] newspaper, the online video portal Stan.tv, the TV channel ‘K + ‘, the ‘single media outlet entitled Respublika’ – the term taken from the sentence, which joins together eight newspapers and 23 Internet sources in Kazakhstan). These media outlets had been covering the events in Zhanaozen in the most comprehensive way. After closing all of the most influential independent media outlets, smaller, in terms of circulation, independent media outlets continue to be oppressed in Kazakhstan. In recent months, the editions of the newspapers ‘Pravda Kazakhstana’ [‘The Truth of Kazakhstan’], ‘Tribuna’[‘The Tribune’] were suspended, while the release of the ‘Pravdivaya Gazeta’ [‘The Truthful Newspaper’] was halted.
Criminal charges of libel are becoming an obstacle for independent journalism. According to human rights activists, approx. 20 criminal cases for defamation are opened on average per year against journalists in Kazakhstan. Kazakh authorities have long ignored the demands of the international community and refuse to decriminalise the article on libel in order to bring it in line with international standards of protection of freedom of opinion and expression. Moreover, in the future, due to the reform of the criminal and criminal procedural law in Kazakhstan, journalists will face not only imprisonment for libel, but also exorbitant fines, which will increase 8-fold, compared to the current fines, and will amount to up to 17 900 euros.Due to the lack of an independent judiciary, Kazakh journalists are under constant risk of going to jail or being fined for defamation, and therefore, they often have to submit their articles for publication under pseudonyms.
On 5 December, 2013, the editor of the news agency ‘Kazakh-Zerno’ [‘The Kazakh Grain’], Sergey Bukatov was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, having been convicted of defamation. A criminal case was also instituted against the editorial staff of ‘Insiderman’ on charges of libel against a judge (Article 343, section 3 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, punishable with imprisonment for up to 4 years). The computer equipment of the editorial office was seized by the authorities. In December 2013 and in March 2014, on the basis of criminal charges of money laundering, searches were conducted in the offices of the foundation ‘Amansaulyk’ and the film production centre ‘Rakurs’ [The Perspective’], which supported the work of independent human rights defenders and journalists in Kazakhstan.
Independent journalists are subjected to systematic pressure in the form of threats, assault and physical violence. On 19 April, 2012, an attempt on the life of Lukpan Akhmedyarov, a prominent journalist, was made. On 20 August, 2013, journalist Igor Larra was attacked, which could have been the reason for the deterioration in his health condition, which after some time led to his death. Journalists are arrested and beaten by the security forces for participating in protests and expressing their civic position. In February 2014, journalists and bloggers: Nurali Aytelenov, Rinat Kibrayev, as well as Dmitriy Shelokov and Andrey Tsukanov were arrested for taking part in a protest.
Natalia Sadykova may face an unfair trial and imprisonment in Kazakhstan
With the current political regime in Kazakhstan, Aidos and Natalia Sadykov cannot count on ensuring their security and their right to conduct professional activities in their homeland. Kazakhstan does not respect the right to a fair trial, and detainees and arrestees are subjected to systematic torture and other ill-treatment.
International observers and human rights organisations noted a serious problem of dependence of the justice system in Kazakhstan, which opens up opportunities for selective criminal prosecution. According to the results of the observation mission in the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Polish Bar Council concluded that Kazakh courts are heavily influenced by government authorities. The justice system and public administration are largely corrupt’. In its report on human rights observance in the world, the U.S. State Department noted that one of the most significant problems in the field of human rights violations in Kazakhstan is ‘lack of an independent judiciary and fair trial’. Kazakhstan’s practice of using ‘punitive psychiatry’, against victims, who besides Aidos Sadykov, included human rights activist Zinaida Mukhortova and clergyman Bakhtzhan Kashkumbayev, is alarming.
In addition, torture in Kazakhstan remains a widespread phenomenon. It is used as a means of interrogating detainees in order to obtain confessions, and is also applied to convicts in prisons and penal colonies. The number of criminal cases, instituted against law enforcement officers on charges of torture, is small, compared to the number of reports of the use of torture. Human rights organisations have limited access to penal colonies, and the government is not responding adequately to the reported incidents of torture.
The danger of the Sadykov family’s kidnapping from Ukraine by Kazakh special services should be taken into account. After the overthrow of the authoritarian regime in Ukraine, the likelihood of this scenario has decreased, but kidnapping is also possible with the cooperation of Kazakh and Russian special services. The treaties between Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan provide for the possibility of extradition of wanted persons and conducting joint investigations. Kazakh special services have repeatedly attempted to intimidate opposition politicians and civil society activists in post-Soviet states.
The justice system is becoming a tool for exerting pressure on media outlets in Kazakhstan, which violates the right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Independent journalists in Kazakhstan cannot feel safe, they are faced with censorship and restriction of their professional activity. Natalia Sadykova’s charges of libel are politically motivated and bear clear signs of fabrication. The UN Committee on Human Rights calls on states to prevent libel laws from being used to restrict the right to freedom of expression.
There is every reason to believe that journalists Natalia and Aidos Sadykov are being persecuted in Kazakhstan due to their professional activities and political beliefs. In their homeland, they will be deprived of the right to a fair trial and may face mistreatment.
The Open Dialogue Foundation hereby calls on the Ukrainian authorities to protect Aidos and Natalia Sadykov from unfair politically motivated persecution, from their potential forcible return to Kazakhstan, as well as from their possible kidnapping by Russian or Kazakh special services, until the date of departure of the Sadykov family to the territory of the European Union. We also call upon the competent authorities of the Republic of Poland to carefully and objectively consider the application of the Sadykov family to be granted international protection in full compliance with European law on the protection of refugees.
We also address the United Nations Agency for Refugees with an appeal that it pays attention to the case of the Sadykov journalists and take control of the matter.