Kazakhstan: Editor-in-chief in pre-trial detention must be immediately released

On 11 February, Zhanbolat Mamay, editor-in chief of Sayasi Kalam Tribuna, an independent newspaper known for its reporting on politically sensitive topics, was arrested on money laundering charges and sentenced to two months pre-trial detention. ARTICLE 19 believes the charges to be politically motivated and calls upon the Kazakh authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mamay.*

“This arrest aims to silence Mamay, a critic of the Kazakh authorities, while seeking to intimidate anyone else considering expressing their discontent with state policy”, said Katie Morris, Head of the Europe and Central Asia Programme at ARTICLE 19. “Mamay was well known for his opposition to proposed land reforms in Kazakhstan. His arrest is yet another blatant attack on freedom of expression, and leaves very few independent papers left who can criticize or hold the government to account,” she added.

On February 10 Zhanbolat Mamay was detained by officers of the National Bureau to Combat Corruption following searches of his house and the newspaper’s offices. Next day, the Medeu district court of Almaty ordered Mamay to be held in a pre-trial detention facility for two months as a measure of restraint. He is accused of using his newspaper to launder funds allegedly stolen from BTA Bank in 2005 – 2009, by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakh oligarch, in exile since 2009, known for his political opposition to the Kazakh government. Ablyazov has yet to be sentenced formally on these charges.

Mamay been charged under Article 193 (3b) of the old Criminal Code of Kazakhstan, “Legalization of Monetary Funds or Other Property Obtained Illegally” (money laundering), punishable by deprivation of liberty of up to seven years.

Mamay has released a public statement denying these charges and calling the case “politically motivated”, with the aim of closing his newspaper. Meanwhile, Ablyazov has posted on Facebook describing the charges as “absurd” and denying any ties with Mamay. A significant inconsistency in the charges is that Mamay only became head of the newspaper in 2012 – that is, three years after the funds were allegedly stolen, suggesting it would have been difficult for him to have used the newspaper for money laundering purposes during the time indicated by the Kazakh authorities.

*On 7 September 2017, Zhanbolat Mamay was released, however his prison sentence was replaced by a three-year ban on working as a journalist and a three-year restriction on his movements. While ARTICLE 19 supports Mamay’s release, it considers the ban on his journalistic activities to be in violation of international standards on freedom of expression and urges the government of Kazakhstan to life this ban and other restrictions immediately and unconditionally.