International freedom of speech campaigners have penned an appeal to Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev to guarantee the safety of jailed journalist Zhanbolat Mamay and to ensure an impartial investigation into his case.
Mamay’s supporters say his arrest was a politically motivated reprisal for his criticism of the government.
The campaigners expressed their “profound concern about the arrest and continued persecution” of Mamay in their appeal, which was released on March 27. Signatories include 29 Kazakhstani and international human rights groups and freedom of speech watchdogs, including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship and Article 19.
Mamay, the editor of what was until recently one of Kazakhstan’s last surviving independent newspapers, Tribuna, was arrested last month on suspicion of using the outlet as a channel for money-laundering. Investigators have accused him of using the newspaper to launder the sum of $110,000 on behalf of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakhstani businessman and political opponent of Nazarbayev’s.
“We have concerns about his security,” Inga Imanbay, a Tribuna journalist and Mamay’s wife, told EurasiaNet.org. “This is a political case and we understand that he might receive a jail term, but the most important thing for us right now is that he should come out alive and well.”
The public appeal to Nazarbayev comes after Mamay went public last month with claims that he had been beaten up by fellow prisoners, which Imanbay said was an attempt to pressure him to confess.
Mamay denies the charges of money-laundering, which Imanbay said had a “political motivation” — a suggestion that the international human rights activists appealing to Nazarbayev deemed “justified.”
Imanbay — who says she has received threatening telephone calls since her husband’s arrest — pointed to Mamay’s political activism as the motive for his detention, particularly his opposition to land reforms that sparked public protests last spring.
She dismissed the idea that a shoe-string operation like Tribuna — which has ceased publishing since Mamay’s arrest — could have been a money-laundering vehicle for Ablyazov, and said neither her husband nor the newspaper had ever taken money from him.
Ablyazov was released from detention in France in December after a court struck down a bid to extradite him to Russia to face corruption charges, which it deemed political.
He is now being tried in absentia in Kazakhstan, where he is accused of embezzling millions of dollars from BTA Bank, which he once ran and owned through an undeclared stake. Ablyazov denies the charges.
In their appeal to Nazarbayev, the freedom of speech campaigners expressed “concern both about the future safety of Mamay and his family and the impartiality of the ongoing criminal case against him.”
They urged the president to investigate allegations of physical abuse of Mamay in custody and threats against Imanbay and guarantee the security of both, and to ensure an impartial investigation into the case.