Ramazan Yessergepov, chief editor of the “Alma-Ata Info” newspaper, was arrested early January this year by the National Security Committee officers from the provincial branch office of the country's main special service. They had come all the way down from Taraz (southern town in Kazakhstan) to his apartment in Almaty and escorted him to their home town. The same day, Yessergepov went on a hunger strike.
Officially, he is accused of disclosure of a state secret. The story goes as follows: last fall, the journalist received a leak of the NSC internal correspondence, according to which it could be assumed that the special service officers in Taraz were involved in raiding of the local business. Yessergepov's newspaper – which is quite a low-profile one and humble in circulation – published a leak under the title “Who runs the country – President Nazarbayev or NSC?”
Shortly after that, he started receiving threats, which even forced him to apply for political asylum in the United States embassy in early December 2008. Obviously, the embassy didn't treat the application seriously, but asked the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan to ensure safety of Yessergepov and his family. Nevertheless, on January 6, he was detained and later arrested. The charges – “abuse of office” and “illegal colection and disclosure of state secrets” presume up to 8 years of imprisonment.
Among the recent developments – OSCE Special Representative for Media Freedom Miklos Haraszti has urged the Kazakh authorities to release Yessergepov, adding that this arrest and threat of jail run contrary to the country's OSCE commitments to create safe environment for the journalists, who deal with acute social and political problems. The OSCE official has also called on the government to revise the state secrets and journalistic sources legislation.
Many local NGOs and media rights watchdogs have come out denouncing the actions of the authorities, saying that it was the journalist's professional duty to publish the information about illegal actions of the force structures. Yesterday, the main opposition party “Azat” has also stated that “shutdown of the “Alma-Ata Info” newspaper and subsequent detention and arrest of Ramazan Yessergepov prove that … the regime is fighting not against corruption, but against those who publicly cover the existing problems and maintain their stand”.