Police in Kazakhstan have raided the offices of the local online edition of Forbes magazine and detained one of its senior reporters.
Forbes.kz chief editor Askar Aukenov wrote on his Facebook account that a dozen police officers arrived at the magazine's Almaty premises after midday on April 2.
Aukenov said the officers presented a March 31 court order authorizing a search of deputy editor Alexander Vorotilov’s workstation. The court petition was filed by a businessman and former Finance Minister, Zeinulla Kakimzhanov, who accuses the reporter of disseminating false information. It is not clear what claims prompted the search.
Police confiscated Vorotilov’s computer, notes, flash drives and bank cards, Aukenov said. They then took the reporter to his home to continue their search there.
The court order also included names from another independent online publication, Ratel.kz. That website said in a statement, also posted on Facebook, that its chief editor Marat Asipov, deputy editor Sapa Mekebayev and columnist Anna Kalashnikova had also been detained.
Ratel.kz’s website was recently blocked by court order, leaving Facebook as its only option for disseminating information.
The events have caught seemingly everybody involved by surprise.
Even Information Minister Dauren Abayev was forced to admit he had no firm information about the detentions or what had prompted them.
“We are working with law enforcement organs for them to give us… clarification on this matter,” he said.
The enmity between Kakimzhanov and these two outlets has been rumbling for a few years. Last January, he and his son sued over some pieces they deemed insufficiently considerate of their honor and dignity. The pieces in question alleged Kakimzhanov was involved in corruption. The publications argued their reports were based on open-source information and statements made by public officials.
The court considering the case agreed to a petition from Kakimzhanov to hold hearings behind closed doors. The businessman argued the court would hear confidential family and business details, and that it was not fair that the public should learn about them.
This elicited much harrumphing among the media advocacy community.
“This was quite an improper interpretation, in my view, of the concepts of privacy and family confidentiality. The judge exceed all reasonable and legally justifiable norms in this case,” said Tamara Kaleyeva, a rights activist.
In April 2017, the court found in Kakimzhanov’s favor and ordered the plaintiffs to pay out $156,000 in damages.
Commenting on the verdict, political commentator Dosym Satpayev spoke of the case being “not so much an attempt to defend one’s honor and dignity as an attempt to shut the mouth of [independent] journalists.”