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Media Group Accuses Kazakh Court Over Newspaper

ALMATY (Reuters) -- An international media rights group has accused a Kazakh court of trying to destroy an independent weekly by pegging a fine for defamation so high that it would be impossible to pay.

Last month, the Court of Appeal in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, ordered the "Taszharghan" newspaper to pay $200,000 in damages after another court found it guilty of defamation in a case initiated by a parliament deputy.

"Taszharghan" often criticizes the government and offers its columns to the opposition.

"Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Journalist in Danger foundation today accused the Almaty Court of Appeal of seeking to ruin an independent newspaper by imposing a fine that it and its journalists would find impossible to pay," RSF said in a statement late on March 2.

"We are all the more appalled at the persistence of this kind of practice, since Kazakhstan is due to take over the presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) from 2010."

Media watchdogs have long accused Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, of silencing independent media in a country where mainstream television and newspapers almost never criticize state policies.

Human rights groups have also questioned the OSCE decision to name Kazakhstan its chair next year, citing the country's failure to comply with OSCE election and democracy standards.