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Kazakh authorities have raided the editorial offices of Forbes Magazine's local edition, briefly detaining a senior reporter and seizing his notes and computer files.

Law enforcement officers in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, also targeted an online news site called on April 2 and detained several employees. Computer and servers at both outlets were also seized.

The raids appeared to be linked to an ongoing dispute involving former Finance Minister Zeinulla Kakimzhanov, who has filed lawsuits in the past over articles by both outlets that investigated corruption allegedly involving Kakimzhanov and his son.

Almaty police said the April 2 raids were prompted by an anonymous complaint, from a person identified as "Citizen K," who claimed that the outlets were knowingly distributing false information.

Askar Aukenov, the chief editor for Forbes' Kazakh edition, said in a Facebook post that a dozen officers arrived at their Almaty offices around midday with a court order authorizing the search of the computers used by deputy editor Alexander Vorotilov.

He said court order was issued in response to a request from Kakimzhanov. He said it wasn’t immediately clear what information or stories may have prompted the court order.

Aukenov said police confiscated Vorotilov’s computer, flash drives, and notes, and then went with Vorotilov to his home to search his apartment.

He was later released.

The website, meanwhile, said in a Facebook post that its chief editor Marat Asipov and deputy editor Sapa Mekebayev were detained, along with a columnist, Anna Kalashnikova.

Last April, an Almaty court ruled in favor of Kakimzhanov and his son in their lawsuit, awarding them about $156,000 in damages.

Jehovah's Witnesses have long been viewed with suspicion in Russia. (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Russian authorities to drop the charges against a Jehovah’s Witness adherent who is set to go on trial this week, and to put an end to their "ruthless persecution" of the religious group.

On April 3, a criminal court in the central Russian city of Oryol is to begin the trial of Dennis Christensen, a 46-year old Danish citizen who has been in pretrial custody for more than 10 months.

If convicted on charges of "organizing activities of a religious organization that has been declared extremist," the accused faces up to 10 years in prison.

"Russian authorities are seeking to punish a Jehovah’s Witness for exercising his right to practice his religion," Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said in a statement on April 2.

Christensen "did nothing wrong and should be freed," Denber added.

The Jehovah's Witness was detained on May 25 last year during a police raid on a worship service in Oryol.

HRW said he had given a sermon during the service and unlocked the building where the Jehovah’s Witnesses had gathered.

The New York-based human rights watchdog quoted Christensen's lawyer as saying that the charges against his client also stem from his participation in discussions about a religious publication and other actions.

Jehovah's Witnesses have long been viewed with suspicion in Russia for their positions on military service, voting, and government authority in general.

Freedom of religion is formally guaranteed in Russia but legislation sets out Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country's four traditional religions, and smaller denominations frequently face discrimination.

In April 2017, the Supreme Court labeled the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organization, ordering the seizure of its property in Russia and effectively banning worshippers from the country.

Since then, there have been a growing number of reports of worshippers being targeted for harassment.

"The Russian authorities' ruthless persecution of Jehovah's Witness adherents has been picking up steam," Denber said. "Dropping the case against Christensen would be a good first step toward ending the raids and other criminal cases against people who are merely practicing their faith."

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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