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Rights Group Says Kazakh Journalist Subjected To 'Full-Blown Harassment'

Inga Imanbai talks to reporters in Almaty on February 22.
Inga Imanbai talks to reporters in Almaty on February 22.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on Kazakhstan to stop harassing an opposition journalist who claims she was assaulted while trying to film the arrest of her husband and was forced to resign as a newspaper editor.

In a statement on March 17, the Paris-based media-rights group urged authorities to conduct a "transparent and effective" investigation into the attack against Inga Imanbai, who it said was being subjected to "full-blown harassment."

Imanbai's husband, Zhanbolat Mamai, is a leading figure in the newly founded opposition Democratic Party. He was arrested on February 21 on the eve of a planned protest rally in Almaty and sentenced to three days in administrative detention.

Imanbai said she tried to use her phone to film the plainclothes police officers who had come to take her husband to a police station.

But she said the device was snatched out of her hands, even though she had shown her accreditation as a journalist. She also says her head was slammed against a metal fence.

Imanbai, who is several months' pregnant, said she had to seek emergency medical attention at a hospital for a slight concussion as a result of the attack.

RSF said the police in Kazakhstan had done nothing in response to the complaint that Imanbai filed on March 1 about the attack.

Imanbai had been appointed as editor of the independent daily Zhas Alash newspaper in early January.

But she was sidelined from the position and then forced to resign on February 20, shortly before demonstrations were staged in Almaty and other Kazakh cities in support of the Democratic Party.

Imanbai says she was sidelined under pressure from the authorities because of articles she wrote about former President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his family, and because of her husband’s role in the Democratic Party.

Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said free media were "essential for a democratic debate and for the credibility of the reformist discourse" employed by Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, who has been in office for nearly a year.

Police prevented several journalists from covering the February 22 protests. More than 100 people were detained at the demonstrations.

Kazakhstan is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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