A coalition of 26 international press freedom organizations has called on Kazakh authorities to review recent civil and criminal actions taken against two popular independent media outlets and revise legislation used to silence the media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), PEN International, and other media watchdogs made the calls in a joint letter posted on May 18 on the website of IFEX, a network of organizations working to promote and defend freedom of expression and information worldwide.
"We are concerned that the growing pattern of disproportionate, and in some cases, illegal actions taken by the prosecutor's office and the judiciary against Ratel.kz and a number of other media suggests misuse of Kazakhstan's legal system to silence normal criticism crucial to the functioning of a well-ordered democracy," they said.
Almaty police on April 2 raided the editorial offices of the news site Ratel.kz and the local edition of Forbes magazine, confiscating computers and documents from both media outlets. The homes of several journalists working for the outlets were also searched.
Meanwhile, Ratel's website and Facebook page have been blocked.
The actions were part of a criminal investigation based on a claim filed by businessman and former Finance Minister Zeinulla Kakimzhanov, claiming that the outlets published false information that damaged his reputation and that of his son.
CPJ says Ratel.kz and Forbes Kazakhstan have reported on the alleged corrupt business practices of the Kakimzhanovs between May and December 2016.
The joint IFEX letter to Kazakhstan's prosecutor-general, Supreme Court, parliament, and minister of information and communications called for a review of the law on dissemination of "false information," saying it levies "disproportionate penalties" on journalists and media outlets and poses a "threat" to critical reporting.
Opponents and rights groups say that President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has held power in Kazakhstan since before the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, has taken systematic steps to suppress dissent and sideline potential opponents.
Last month, Human Rights Watch issued a statement on the case against Ratel.kz and Forbes.kz, urging Kazakhstan's authorities to stop using libel laws "to harass journalists who are doing their jobs."