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Journalist Acquitted of Libel

Kazakhstan - Alima Abdirova, RFE correspondent and NGO activist, Aqtobe, 31Aug2011.

Kazakhstan - Alima Abdirova, RFE correspondent and NGO activist, Aqtobe, 31Aug2011.

Alima Abdirova, a free-lance correspondent for RFE's Kazakh Service, Radio Azattyk, was acquitted of libel this week in a trial that lacked due process and highlighted the risks confronting independent journalists and activists in Kazakhstan.

Abdirova was sued by the former director of a special-needs boarding school in the northwest city of Aqtobe after the NGO she heads reported in May that children there were being abused. She was sued in her capacity as an NGO leader, not a journalist. According to Abdirova, who was denied a lawyer at her trial, Judge Maqsat Duisen dropped the libel charges against her, saying they "have not been proven in the court." A guilty verdict carried the prospect of hefty fines and a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Contrary to the official charges, Abdirova believes the suit was brought against her in retaliation by Kazakhstan's State Security Committee (KNB) for her coverage of several security-related incidents in the Aqtobe region, including a suicide bombing this spring and armed clashes between police and alleged religious extremists in July. She was vilified on regional TV and by a local blogger as a result of her reporting.

Independent journalists elsewhere in Central Asia have suffered after reporting on the security situation in their countries. Over the last year, several newspapers in Tajikistan had their print-runs confiscated or were denied access to publishing houses after reporting on military operations in the eastern Rasht Valley, many observers believe.

The editor of the independent newspaper, "Farazh" was badly beaten yesterday by unknown attackers in Dushanbe.

Reported by RFE's Tajik service and O wire.