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Kazakhs Sentenced For Publishing State Secrets

Ramazan Esergepov vowed as police escorted him out of the courtroom to battle the charges "to the end."
The owner and editor of a Kazakh independent weekly and a fellow defendant have been sentenced to jail terms in connection with the publication of state secrets, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The Almaty-based "Alma-Ata Info" weekly's Ramazan Esergepov was ordered by a court in the city of Taraz to spend three years in jail for publishing state secrets, while local businessman and fellow defendant Sultan Makhmadov received a seven-year sentence for tax evasion, illegally obtaining state secrets, and revealing them via media.

Esergepov's wife, Raushan, told RFE/RL that the verdict was pronounced behind closed doors and neither defendants' relatives nor their lawyers were allowed to be present in the courtroom.

Kazakh authorities first tried to arrest Esergepov in December, but he entered the U.S. Consulate in Almaty and hid out there for several days. He later left the consulate and was hospitalized with heart problems.

On January 6, Esergepov was officially arrested in Almaty and transferred to the city of Taraz. He told journalists on August 8, when escorted from the courtroom by police, that the case represented a test of freedom of speech and that he was going to fight it to the end.

Sultan Makhmadov was under house arrest while investigations continued, but he managed to escape on August 6 and was apprehended in Bishkek in neighboring Kyrgyzstan later the same day and returned to Taraz.

The press secretary of the Committee of National Security, Kenzhebulat Beknazarov, accused Sultan Makhmadov of running an illegal shadow business and trying to discredit that committee by publishing classified information through Esergepov's newspaper.

The chairwoman of Kazakhstan's Journalists in Trouble NGO, Rozlana Taukina, told RFE/RL that Esergepov was merely doing his job as a journalist and therefore was not guilty of revealing any secrets.