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Kazakh journalist Amangeldy Batyrbekov (file photo)

TURKISTAN, Kazakhstan -- An official in Kazakhstan’s southern Turkistan region has been arrested on suspicion of ordering the assassination of an independent journalist.

Police said on January 21 that five individuals, whose names were not disclosed, were arrested in the case of the attempted murder of Amangeldy Batyrbekov, the editor in chief of the Saryaghash-Inform newspaper.

Media reports said the official arrested in the case is Bauyrzhan Mairikhov, the chief of the education department of the Saryaghash district administration.

Turkistan regional administration officials confirmed to RFE/RL that Mairikhov was arrested but refused to give any details.

The probe was launched after two men shot Batyrbekov's son late at night on January 3 near the journalist's house. The son survived the attack and was treated in a hospital for several days.

Investigators say the attackers' target was the journalist, for whose assassination they had been promised 5 million tenges ($11,500).

Batyrbekov told RFE/RL that the assassination attempt was most likely linked to his online articles about corruption at a local kindergarten, in which he mentioned Mairikhov.

Batyrbekov is currently the subject of an investigation launched after three judges filed a libel lawsuit against him last year over his investigative reports.

In January 2020, the Turkistan Regional Court canceled a lower court's decision to sentence Batyrbekov to two years and three months for insulting the dignity and honor of another local education official in one of his articles.

In 2017, Batyrbekov was sentenced to 18 months of parole-like restricted freedom for insulting a deputy prosecutor in the Saryaghash district in a newspaper article.

The Almaty-based Adil Soz (A Just Word) human rights group called Batyrbekov a prisoner of conscience at the time, while the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders called for all charges to be dropped.

International human rights organizations have called on Kazakhstan to revoke an article in the Criminal Code that sets out criminal prosecution for libel instead of making it a civil case.

Kazakhstan ranked 155th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Zarema Yangulbayeva was taken from her home in Nizhny Novgorod by masked men on the evening of January 20. (file photo)

Chechnya's strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on January 21 that the detained mother of a prominent human rights lawyer faces a "real prison sentence," the Chechen authorities "will take care of" her son, and that her entire family could find themselves "underground."

Zarema Yangulbayeva, the 52-year-old mother of Abubakar Yangulbayev, a lawyer of the Committee Against Torture NGO, was taken from her apartment in Nizhny Novgorod on the evening of January 20 by masked men who introduced themselves as Chechen police officers.

Amnesty International described the incident that took place some 1,800 kilometers away from Chechnya as a "kidnapping" and urged Russia's federal authorities to act on the "lawlessness" that had "spilled out" of Russia's North Caucasus region.

"Will Russia's federal authorities again ignore the developments in Chechnya and pretend that they are not aware of attempts by the Chechen authorities to muzzle their critics by criminal acts and abductions of their relatives?" Amnesty's statement said.

Chechen human rights lawyer Abubakr Yangulbayev (file photo)
Chechen human rights lawyer Abubakr Yangulbayev (file photo)

Yangulbayev told RFE/RL that his mother and father, reserve federal judge Saidi Yangulbayev, have been residing outside of Chechnya for many years and had nothing to do with any developments in Chechnya.

According to him, his mother was forcibly taken from her apartment at the Chechen authorities' order to bring her to her native region as "a witness" in an unspecified fraud case.

In a January 21 Telegram post, Kadyrov confirmed that Yangulbayeva had been taken into custody by members of Chechen law enforcement, whom he claimed were doing their job "conscientiously" and in accordance with Russian law.

The Untouchable: How Kadyrov Maintains His Tight Grip On Chechnya
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Kadyrov alleged that Yangulbayeva had attacked a police officer after being taken to Grozny, saying that she had "already earned herself...a real prison sentence."

Kadyrov went on to question the judicial credentials of reserve federal judge Saidi Yangulbayev, calling on the Russian Supreme Court to "erase his name from the history of the judicial body." He also accused the couple's son of "making direct and open threats against me."

"The competent authorities will take care of this person," Kadyrov wrote in reference to the younger Yangulbayev.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on January 21 that the Kremlin was not aware of the situation surrounding Zarema Yangulbayeva, emphasizing that she is the wife of a federal judge.

"The Kremlin has no details about the abduction of a federal judge's wife in Nizhny Novgorod and prefers not to believe in it," Peskov said.

In late December, authorities detained dozens of relatives of Chechen bloggers who reside abroad and often criticize Chechen authorities and the region's Kremlin-backed authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Most of them were later released, but some, including two of Yangulbayev's relatives, remain in custody.

In his Twitter post, Kadyrov said the "entire family has no concept of honor or dignity" and declared that "either a place in prison or underground awaits this family."

Abubakar Yangulbayev was previously briefly detained in the city of Pyatigorsk and questioned as a witness in a case of "justification of terrorism," for which Kadyrov suggested he had been summoned and could be the reason his mother was taken into custody.

The attorney has reportedly claimed that about 40 members of his family have gone missing in Chechnya and that a brother of his was tortured at the Russian Interior Ministry's Grozny branch in 2017.

Russian and international human rights groups have for years accused Kadyrov of overseeing grave human rights abuses including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and the persecution of the LGBT community.

Kremlin critics say Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned a blind eye to the abuses and violations carried out by Kadyrov because he relies on the former rebel commander to control separatist sentiment and violence in Chechnya.

Chechnya went through two devastating post-Soviet wars and an Islamist insurgency that spread to other mostly Muslim regions in the North Caucasus.

With reporting by Ekho Moskvy and Meduza

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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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