TURKISTAN, Kazakhstan -- An official in Kazakhstan’s southern Turkistan region has been arrested on suspicion of ordering the assassination of an independent journalist.
Police said on January 21 that five individuals, whose names were not disclosed, were arrested in the case of the attempted murder of Amangeldy Batyrbekov, the editor in chief of the Saryaghash-Inform newspaper.
Media reports said the official arrested in the case is Bauyrzhan Mairikhov, the chief of the education department of the Saryaghash district administration.
Turkistan regional administration officials confirmed to RFE/RL that Mairikhov was arrested but refused to give any details.
The probe was launched after two men shot Batyrbekov's son late at night on January 3 near the journalist's house. The son survived the attack and was treated in a hospital for several days.
Investigators say the attackers' target was the journalist, for whose assassination they had been promised 5 million tenges ($11,500).
Batyrbekov told RFE/RL that the assassination attempt was most likely linked to his online articles about corruption at a local kindergarten, in which he mentioned Mairikhov.
Batyrbekov is currently the subject of an investigation launched after three judges filed a libel lawsuit against him last year over his investigative reports.
In January 2020, the Turkistan Regional Court canceled a lower court's decision to sentence Batyrbekov to two years and three months for insulting the dignity and honor of another local education official in one of his articles.
In 2017, Batyrbekov was sentenced to 18 months of parole-like restricted freedom for insulting a deputy prosecutor in the Saryaghash district in a newspaper article.
The Almaty-based Adil Soz (A Just Word) human rights group called Batyrbekov a prisoner of conscience at the time, while the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders called for all charges to be dropped.
International human rights organizations have called on Kazakhstan to revoke an article in the Criminal Code that sets out criminal prosecution for libel instead of making it a civil case.
Kazakhstan ranked 155th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2021 World Press Freedom Index.