OSCE media freedom representative calls for the release of Kazakh journalist arrested in secrecy case

Kazakhstan Materials 14 January 2009 16:17 (UTC +04:00)

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, said today he had urged Kazakh authorities to release a journalist accused of disclosing official secrets and to adjust the relevant laws to international standards.

Ramazan Yesergepov, the editor of the weekly Alma-Ata Info, was detained on 6 January while undergoing treatment in a hospital, reported OSCE.

He is under arrest under the Criminal Code Article "Illegal Receipt or Disclosure of State Secrets" after publishing an article that criticized actions taken by the Kazakh National Security Committee in a tax evasion case against a company. The weekly also published leaked internal documents that showed possible breach of law by the Committee.

"As the most important first step, I ask your authorities to release the journalist," Haraszti said in a letter to Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin. "Keeping him under arrest, just as threatening him with imprisonment, would be a violation of the OSCE commitment to facilitate a fearless atmosphere for public-issues journalism.

"Conflicts around unauthorised disclosures are signs of maturation of freedom of the media in any society, where journalism is free to perform its watchdog function. However, another important sign of democracy is the learning process of the authorities in handling of these tensions."

Haraszti noted that Western European countries and the United States recently reformed laws on secrecy and protection of journalistic sources, following cases of 'breach of secrecy' by investigative journalists.

"Yesergepov's case should compel Kazakhstan to reform rules on classification, to de-criminalise breach of secrecy by civilians and to grant protection of journalistic sources," Haraszti said.

"OSCE commitments oblige participating States to realize society's right to freely discuss issues of public importance, including, but not limited to, corruption, bureaucratic wrongdoing, nepotism and environmental carelessness."

Haraszti's office will continue to monitor Yesergepov's case.