Aimira Shaukentayeva reads her news bulletins with a stony and ferocious demeanor. But on the turn of a dime, her voice softens as she warns with matronly concern of the threats besieging Kazakhstan.
For many, Shaukentayeva, a newsreader on First Channel Eurasia – a station jointly owned by the Kazakhstani state and a Russian TV channel – has emerged as the most recognizable face of an increasingly aggressive propaganda assault on the Kazakhstani government's critics.
The pushback of the authorities against a wave of land reform protests is being conducted on two fronts, but with one aim: to smear and discredit. Prosecutors have suggested the demonstrators who came out onto the streets on May 21 were plotting to overthrow the government — a possible prelude to a ratcheting-up of criminal cases against activists. The battle for hearts and minds is being waged by journalists like Shaukentayeva, who was speaking of outside forces stoking a plot to foment bloodshed weeks before the prosecutor’s office claimed that is what it was.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.