Kazakhstan: Editor's Parole Release Ordered in Surprise Ruling
A court in Kazakhstan has ordered the release on parole of a prominent journalist who was sentenced last October to serve six years in prison on fraud charges.
Lawyers filing the parole appeal for Seitkazy Matayev, 63, said their client had exhibited exemplary behavior while in prison and that he was suffering from circulation trouble, Tengri News reported on November 16.
Many were shocked by the trial against Matayev, a largely establishment figure who headed Kazakh Journalists’ Union. In the early 1990s, he worked as President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s first post-independence press secretary.
Matayev and his son, Aset, who was sentenced to five years in prison, were arrested in February 2016 on suspicion of tax evasion and misappropriating money granted to their KazTAG news agency as part of a much-criticized state media subsidy program. Prosecutors put the amount of funds supposedly defrauded funds at around $1 million.
Matayev vehemently denied the charges, insisting he was the victim of a politically orchestrated campaign. In his final appeal to court he accused the chairman of the lower house of parliament, Nurlan Nigmatullin, of engineering his downfall. Nigmatullin had taken over as speaker in June after leaving his previous post as head of the presidential administration.
In spring, Matayev’s sentence was commuted by amnesty to two years and eight months.
Prosecutors have a 15-day window in which to appeal the release ordered by the court in Kapchagay, a town in the Almaty region. That likelihood is not to be excluded. The prosecution argued in the November 16 hearings that the court should reject the parole appeal as Matayev had failed to provide sufficient compensation for the financial damages he is accused of causing.
Matayev’s wife, Bayan Ramazanova, was she was pleasantly stunned by the ruling.
“We left [the court] after the prosecutors objected to the parole request. We had no hope. But we are afraid to be too joyous because the prosecutor’s office may well appeal. When everything is resolved, then we will rejoice. And then there is another matter. Aset is still in the prison colony, and that darkens our joy,” Ramazanova told RFE/RL’s Kazakh service.
Journalists critical of the government routinely face harassment from the authorities, usually in the form of spurious criminal cases. Matayev represented something of a departure, however, insofar as he was not known to hold especially strong objections to the government. Some commentators have speculated that he was singled out for the treatment because of a business dispute with elements within the governing elite.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.