Kazakhstan: Independent Newspaper Editor Condemned to Limited Freedom
A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced the editor of an independent newspaper to three years of limited freedom for purportedly using his publication to launder money.
The judge at Almaty’s Medeu district court also ruled on September 7 that Zhanbolat Mamay should be denied the right to carry out any journalistic activities over that same period.
Critics of the trial have described it as a contrived effort to silence a dissenting voice and that the core charges of money-laundering bore little scrutiny.
Prosecutors maintain that Mamay received $110,000 in funds from the dogged and foreign-based regime foe Mukhtar Ablyazov with the purpose of laundering the cash. That amount, it was suggested, came from the billions that Kazakhstan’s authorities say Ablyazov embezzled from BTA Bank, which he ran before fleeing the country in 2009.
The sentence means that Mamay is to be released from custody but that his movements will be strictly monitored and limited. With time served, he has two-and-a-half years of his penalty remaining.
“For the first time in seven months I am standing under an open sky, without a prison guard accompaniment, without handcuffs,” Mamay told Radio Free Europe’s Kazakhstan service. “If it were not for the colossal support from civil society, public opinion, international organizations, what happened today could not have happened.”
Mamay, whose Tribuna newspaper is now defunct, continued to protest his innocence in court until the very end. He said in a final statement to court on September 6 that he had never written articles on anybody’s instructions, let alone Ablyazov.
“We have always been guided by our principles and we believe that we are conveying the truth,” he said.
Mamay conceded that he had accepted money, however, from Zhaksylyk Zharimbetov, a former deputy chairman of the board at BTA Bank and an erstwhile aide to Ablyazov.
Although there was some concern Mamay would receive a custodial sentence, prosecutor Yerkin Baimagambetov opted for the milder option of asking for the judge to order four years of limited freedom, considering the journalist’s lack of a criminal record, his young child and elderly parents.
In his ruling, Judge Dauren Maukeyev argued that Mamay would have had to have known the illegal provenance of the money transferred to him by Zharimbetov, who acted as witness for the prosecution in the trial.
In the end, the evidence against Mamay proved largely circumstantial and based on hearsay, but what is more clear is that the Kazakhstani government has contrived to eliminate yet another independent journalistic voice from the scene.
Aigerim Toleukhanova is a journalist and researcher from Kazakhstan.