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Concerns Mount Over Kazakh Government Critic's Institutionalization

November 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Relatives and acquaintances have expressed concern over the fate of a self-described philosopher and political analyst in Kazakhstan who was forcibly admitted to a psychiatric facility.

Nurlan Alimbekov frequently published comments that were critical of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the government on his own website. He was detained at his home in Shymkent in South Kazakhstan province on August 16.

Alimbekov has been charged with inciting religious and ethnic hatred and insulting the government over e-mails that he sent and received. The charges appear to be the first application of a Kazakh law on mass media to e-mails.

Speaking at a news conference in the southeastern city of Almaty on November 20, Alimbekov's defenders and relatives said they have not been allowed to see him.

The suspect's brother, Orazymbet Alimbekov, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that his brother is neither mentally ill nor guilty of any crime. He said his brother's "mental condition is absolutely normal. He is pretty sound [mentally]. And he can prove in any court that he did not commit any crime at all."

Orazymbet Alimbekov said he has filed a lawsuit against officers of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB), accusing them of beating his brother when they detained him. He said his brother suffered a broken rib and two broken teeth.

Contacted by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, a KNB spokesman in South Kazakhstan province, Nurlan Tasqymbaev, refused to comment.

Rozlana Taukina, the head of the Kazakh nongovernmental group Journalists in Trouble, objected to the charges against Alimbekov. She says that a person cannot be held responsible for the content of electronic information. She says that the e-mails "might have been [sent] by any person, including any employee of any organization."

Rights activists have also argued that the Kazakh media law excludes e-mail.

The resurfacing of the Alimbekov case comes one week before Kazakhstan's bid to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is expected to come to a vote. OSCE foreign ministers meet in Madrid on November 29-30 to decide whether to hand the chairmanship of the world's largest regional security organization to Kazakhstan in 2009.