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Kazakh Court Overturns Media-Criticism Ban


Timur Kulibaev is at the center of the case.

Timur Kulibaev is at the center of the case.

(RFE/RL) -- A Kazakh court has struck down a ruling blocking the press from printing potentially damaging material about the president's son-in-law.

The Medeu district court today also dismissed Timur Kulibaev's lawsuit against five independent and opposition newspapers, which had reported on corruption allegations against him.

Today's move comes a day after sharp criticism from Europe's top security and rights body, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose media-freedom representative called the lawsuit a dangerous attempt at censorship.

The same court last week seized the entire print runs of the newspapers and barred media outlets from publishing any information that could damage Kulibaev's reputation.

Kulibaev last month filed lawsuits against "Respublika," "Golos respubliki" (Voice of the Republic), "Vzglyad" (Glance), "Kursiv," and "Kursiv-News" after they printed a statement by an exiled Kazakh businessman and politician.

In the statement, Mukhtar Ablyazov alleged that Kulibaev illegally obtained tens of millions of dollars in a deal with the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) several years ago.

Speaking today to journalists in the capital, Astana, Kulibaev refused to comment on the allegations, which Ablyazov also sent to the Prosecutor-General's Office, political parties, and politicians:

"Let's not comment on this. The reason is simple: the law enforcement agencies are taking care of it," Kulibaev said. "Once they come up with a conclusion, we can talk about it."

Following today's ruling, representatives of three of the newspapers ("Respublika," "Vzglyad," and "Svoboda slova") said they planned to seek compensation from Kulibaev for the libel lawsuits he filed against them.

OSCE Criticism

The original court ruling appears to have embarrassed authorities in Kazakhstan, which this year became the first former Soviet republic to chair the OSCE, Europe's main democracy watchdog.

Kazakhstan rejected criticism of its human rights track record in the run-up to the OSCE chairmanship, saying it was gradually implementing liberal reforms.

On February 8, the OSCE media-freedom representative criticized what he called the "misuse" of libel laws to muzzle the press in Kazakhstan.

Miklos Haraszti, OSCE representative on freedom of the media
In a statement, Miklos Haraszti specifically mentioned the confiscation of the five newspapers. He described the lawsuits as "dangerous attempts at censorship" and said the harsh punishments sought endangered "the very existence of the few critical-minded media outlets" that remain in the country.

Later the same day, the chairman of Kazakhstan's Supreme Court, Musabek Alimbekov, told journalists that the Medeu district court judge "could have made a mistake in imposing the ban."

But Alimbekov added that "judges' mistakes can be fixed, in case [their decisions] have not fully entered into force and if they are still under review. That is what the judicial system is for. The judicial actions of one organ can be fixed by the judicial actions of the next authority."

Presidential Son-In-Law

Kulibaev is often tipped as a possible successor to President Nursultan Nazarbaev. He is deputy chairman of Samruk-Kazyna, the state body that oversees all of Kazakhstan's energy companies -- oil, natural gas, and nuclear.

Kulibaev is also chairman of the board of directors of the KazAtomProm state uranium producer and KazMunaiGaz, the state gas company, as well as Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, the state railway company.

Ablyazov, the source of the allegations about Kulibaev's financial involvement with CNPC, is a former banker and politician who is himself accused of embezzlement. He now lives in London.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report. With agency reports

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