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OSCE Criticises Kazakh Journalist's Jailing

Ramazan Esergepov
ALMATY (Reuters) -- Europe's main security and human rights watchdog has criticized its future chairman Kazakhstan for jailing a journalist accused of divulging state secrets and said the move violated its media freedom commitments.

Kazakhstan, a Central Asian state that will next year chair the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has already come under fire over the case of newspaper editor Ramazan Esergepov, sentenced to three years in jail this month.

Esergepov, the owner and editor of "Alma Ata Info" newspaper, was arrested in January after publishing a letter he said revealed the links between a businessman and the National Security Committee (KNB).

In a letter to Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin, Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, said the sentence violated international standards and OSCE commitments on media freedom, the OSCE said late on August 11.

"Criminalizing civilians or journalists for breach of secrecy deprives the public of important information and leaves investigative journalism without one of its most important tools: the liberty to go beyond official stonewalling," it quoted the letter in its statement.

"I still hope that Kazakhstan, which will chair the OSCE in 2010, will provide a safe working environment for journalists covering social and political issues," Haraszti said, urging Kazakhstan to overturn Yesergepov's sentence.

Media rights body Reporters Without Borders this week has also criticized the sentence, handed down in a closed trial.

Ex-Soviet Kazakhstan, which had pledged to liberalize its laws before taking on the OSCE role, has said this year it would not fully implement legal reforms recommended by the OSCE citing the lack of democratic traditions.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has run the oil-rich country for 20 years, wields sweeping powers and can run for an unlimited number of terms.