Supporters of a jailed journalist in Kazakhstan have said he has been targeted for physical mistreatment since being detained last week.
Authorities accuse Zhanbolat Mamay, editor of Tribuna newspaper, of involvement in fraudulent schemes with fugitive banker and government foe Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Mamay’s lawyer, Zhanara Balgabayeva, said on February 21 that she filed a request to meet see her client in person and for him to be moved to a more secure pretrial detention facility but was rebuffed on both counts.
Tribuna is one of very few independent media outlets in Kazakhstan that have either not been shut down or coopted by the authorities, leading rights activists to speculate Mamay is facing politically motivated charges. Unlike most media in Kazakhstan, Tribuna is not a beneficiary of the “state order” system, whereby the government either finances outlets outright or pays for the publication of material publicizing state policies and initiatives. It focuses primarily on social issues and has a line that tends toward robust criticism of the government and provides a platform for the few opposition politicians remaining on the scene.
Balgabayeva cited a note conveyed to her by Mamay stating that he had been “subjected to beatings in his prison cell,” but added that the claim might have been “sharply worded” and that there was no way to independently verify his wellbeing for now.
Mamay’s spouse, Inga Imanbay, said in a Facebook video message that she had met with the head of pretrial detention facility No. 18, where her husband is being held, in a failed bid to see him.
“The prison governor assured us that he met with Zhanbolat and that he took him out of the cell where he was being subjected to physical and moral pressure and transferred him to another cell,” Imambay said. “He gave his word that Zhanbolat is in no danger.”
Mamay has had run-ins with the authorities in the past. In 2012, he was accused of inciting social unrest in the western oil town of Zhanaozen, which was the scene of the bloody quelling of a violent labor protest in December 2011. He spent several months in a pretrial detention facility but was eventually freed following intermediation between the authorities and a member of the Azat opposition party.
In September 2013, a court in the business capital, Almaty, ruled that distribution of Tribuna be suspended for three months for violating a law requiring media to inform the authorities if they intend to stop publishing for any period of time. Tribuna had that year stopped publishing issues from July 10 to August 21. Rights activists described the ruling as politically motivated.