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Kazakh Opposition Groups, Media Face Ban

Nurdaulet Suindikov, spokesman for the Kazakh prosecutor-general
Nurdaulet Suindikov, spokesman for the Kazakh prosecutor-general
Kazakh authorities want to brand two opposition groups and several media outlets as extremist and to have them banned.

The Kazakh prosecutor-general's spokesman, Nurdaulet Suindikov, made the announcement to journalists on November 21.

The Almaty prosecutor's office has asked a court to designate the unregistered opposition Algha (Forward) party and People's Front movement as extremist.

Suindikov also said that the opposition newspapers "Respublika" and "Vzglyad" (Viewpoint), the satellite television station K Plus, and dozens of associated online news sites should be shut down as well.

The push against the opposition follows the conviction last month of Algha party leader Vladimir Kozlov for allegedly inciting a riot last year in the western oil town of Zhanaozen and the nearby village of Shetpe.

Police shot dead 17 people there in mid-December. Kozlov was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail in October.

All media outlets mentioned by the prosecutor-general's office on November 21 reported extensively on the deadly Zhanaozen strike. The story received far less coverage in state-controlled media.

The opposition media outlets' coverage of events in Zhanaozen and Shetpe was used as prosecution evidence at Kozlov's trial.

Prosecutors made reference to Kozlov's statements to those outlets, saying they were calls to incite social hatred.

Opposition Outlets 'Will Be Destroyed'

The chairman of the Union of Kazakhstan's Journalists, Seyitqazy Mataev, condemned the prosecutor's move.

He told RFE/RL that his organization is ready to defend all the media outlets affected by the move.

"It was a real surprise for me when I heard about it today," he said on November 21. "It all looks to be connected with the events in Zhanaozen and Kozlov's case. The Union of Kazakhstan's Journalists will organize a press conference in Almaty tomorrow to express its support for the affected newspapers and TV channels. And if need be, we are ready to defend them in court. Before the trial, an examination of the media outlets' materials should be conducted to determine if they contain extremist content. We will prepare and show up in court [if necessary]."

The chairwoman of the Almaty-based Adil Soz (A Just Word) media rights group criticized the prosecutor's announcement.

Tamara Kaleeva told RFE/RL that a ban on opposition media will actually have the opposite of its intended effect on society.

"The people looking for [alternative sources of] information will look at other sites, very likely extremist sites," she said. "People will believe more in rumors. They very much believe in rumors even now. That includes any rumors: extremist, provocative -- any. In other words, destabilization will continue."

Kaleeva also claimed the prosecutor's action against the media outlets was not legal.

"With this [move], all our opposition media outlets will be destroyed and destroyed illegally, because even the requests announced by the prosecutor-general's spokesman included outrageous violations of many laws, particularly the law on mass media," she said. "We are coming even closer not just to the last years of the Soviet period, but, probably to the 1930s era, when dissent was persecuted, punished, and oppressed."

It is not clear when the Almaty court will decide on a possible ban of the opposition media and political groups.

With reporting by AP and Interfax

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