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Kazakh Journalist Sentenced To Forced Labor, Media Ban, 'Restricted Freedom'

Aigul Otepova
Aigul Otepova

A Kazakh court has sentenced a blogger and journalist to one year of “restricted freedom” -- a parole-like limitation -- and 100 hours of forced labor on what the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called “trumped-up charges.”

The court in the capital, Nur-Sultan, also banned Aigul Otepova on April 29 from conducting “public and political activities” for three years, including working in the media, after convicting her of participating in banned political groups.

Otepova, who has denied the charges, said she plans to appeal the ruling.

She and her lawyer said they believe the case is an attempt to silence her reporting that is critical of state authorities.

The conviction “once again demonstrates how the country’s laws banning so-called extremist groups are routinely used to stifle political dissent,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.

Said urged the authorities to “overturn this baseless sentence on appeal” and ensure that Otepova’s “rights to conduct investigative journalism and express critical opinions are fully respected.”

Otepova was detained in mid-September and put under house arrest after she placed a post on Facebook criticizing official efforts to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

In November, she was placed in a psychiatric clinic for 18 days for a mandatory mental-health evaluation. The journalist was released on December 11 and remained under house arrest.

Human rights groups have criticized the Kazakh government for years for persecuting independent and opposition journalists.

Rights activists in Kazakhstan have criticized authorities for using Soviet-era methods of stifling dissent by placing opponents in psychiatric clinics.

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