ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Journalists at the online magazine Village Kazakhstan say they have come under pressure from unknown state officials over a recent report about the life of a boy who was raped three years ago by teenagers in Kazakhstan's southern region of Turkistan.
"We have to inform you that unknown individuals who introduce themselves as officials of state entities are attacking us right now, demanding we remove the article from our website. We demand you stop putting pressure on independent journalists," the magazine said in its Telegram channel on September 1.
The article, published on September 1 and written by journalist Asem Zhapisheva, tells the story of a 7-year-old boy who was raped repeatedly in the village of Abai in 2018.
The story was first reported by local journalist Amangeldy Batyrbekov, who wrote in his online S-Inform newspaper about the boy's ordeal and the reluctance of the regional authorities and police to launch a probe into it.
The reporting led to a public outcry, forcing the replacement of the Central Asian nation's ombudswoman for children and the suspension of local police and education officials in the Turkistan region.
Eventually, one of the perpetrators was sentenced to seven years in prison, while several other teens avoided prosecution because they were underage at the time.
The Village Kazakhstan's September 1 report focused on the problems the boy and his family continue to face, including comments from the his mother and grandmother that they continue to receive threats from local authorities and relatives and friends of the convicted boys.
The victim's lawyer, Qurmanghazy Musir, whose pressure campaign eventually prompted police to launch a criminal case into the crime, has been slapped with several libel lawsuits from those incriminated, costing him time, energy and money, they said.
Batyrbekov also faced libel charges after he wrote about the rape in 2018. In September 2019, he was sentenced to two years and three months in prison on libel charges.
In January 2020, Judge Taubai Qadyrbaev of the Turkistan Regional Court accepted Batyrbekov's appeal and ruled that he be immediately released from custody and offered apologies to the journalist "on behalf of the state and the court."
However, later in 2020, Batyrbekov was again charged with libel through several other cases, which he eventually won.
Batyrbekov told RFE/RL that a new libel lawsuit had been filed against him by three judges over his Facebook posts, which the journalist called baseless as well.
Kazakhstan's Ministry of Information and Social Development said in a September 2 statement that it is "ready to provide assistance to Village Kazakhstan" and "protect the rights" of its reporters.
Kazakhstan ranked 155th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2021 World Press Freedom Index.