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PEN Day Of The Imprisoned Writer: Suspended Sentences Leave Kazakhs In Fear

Kazakh journalist Serik Sapargali

Kazakh journalist Serik Sapargali

ALMATY -- In October 2011, Kuanbek Botabekov, editor in chief of the newspaper "Adilet," was given an 18-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay about $2,000 after being convicted of defaming two local officials in Shymkent.

The complainants had sought damages of more than $70,000, arguing that Botabekov's articles on local corruption had "deprived them of the reputations they had worked for their entire lives."

Botabekov is one of five Kazakh writers listed by the PEN International nongovernmental organization as imprisoned writers. PEN marks its annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer on November 15.

PEN has also expressed concern about Alpamys Bekturganov, a writer and former official in the western Uralsk region. Bekturganov was sentenced to a year in prison on defamation charges in 2009 after giving a press conference in which he criticized the region's governor.

While he was in prison, Bekturganov was given an additional three-year prison sentence for purported "abuse of office."

He was released on parole for "good behavior" in September 2010, but -- like Botabekov -- Bekturganov could be forced to serve the rest of his sentence under almost any pretext.

PEN Day of the Imprisoned Writer: Jailed Voices That Must Not Be Silenced

PEN International is also drawing attention to three journalists who were convicted of alleged involvement in mass violence in the western city of Zhanaozen in December 2011. Police shot dead 16 people in clashes in the city with labor demonstrators.

Journalists Vladimir Kozlov and Serik Sapargali were given 7 1/2-year prison terms in October for purportedly inciting violence. Another journalist and activist, Zhambolat Mamal, was also arrested but agreed to testify in the closed trial.

Sapargali has since been released on parole, but Kozlov remains in custody. A court is expected to rule on his appeal on November 19.

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