She was detained on December 23 on criminal defamation charges, and now faces up to seven years in prison. Baydalinova is being prosecuted for publishing an investigation of corruption in the construction industry that involved a commercial bank linked to the government.
“Kazkommertsbank has strong ties to Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime, and it is apparent that the government is using the bank’s name to get back at Baydalinova for exposing the regime’s corrupt agenda,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Nakanune and Baydalinova have already been unfairly punished for reporting corruption when the news website was found guilty of damaging Kazkommertsbank’s reputation in the previous lawsuit. The regime should stop its malicious prosecution and release Baydalinova at once,” added Halvorssen.
Earlier this year, Kazkommertsbank, a private financial institution that is believed to channel state funds to building programs, sued Nakanune for libel after the news website’s report connected the bank to corruption in the Almaty construction industry. The arrest of Baydalinova is a criminal extension of the preceding civil case, in which an Almaty court found Nakanune guilty of damaging the bank’s reputation and ordered news website to pay $107,000 in damages to the bank. On December 23, Baydalinova was detained and charged with spreading false information under Article 274 of the Kazakhstan Criminal Code. Prior to Baydalinova’s arrest, the police searched her apartment and Nakanune’s newsroom and seized reporting equipment and records.
Nakanune’s publication not only alleged corruption in the construction industry; it also hinted that Almaty City Hall was involved in the schemes. The mayor of Almaty enjoys close ties to President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Because of these ties, there has been suspicion among journalists that officials in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital city, were the real instigators behind the Kazkommertsbank lawsuit. This is not the first time Baydalinova has faced harassment from the authorities – she and other journalists from Nakanune used to work for Respublika and Assandi-Times, predecessors of Nakanune that were shut down by the government amid media crackdown in recent years.
“The criminal charges brought against Baydalinova seek to eliminate the discussion of public affairs that involve corrupt public officials. These charges are typically written vaguely by authoritarian regimes around the world in order to silence dissent and criticism,” said Javier El-Hage, chief legal officer of HRF. “Using criminal defamation charges to shut down critics of the government is against international law. Kazakhstani authorities must drop the charges against Baydalinova immediately,” El-Hage added.
The Kazakhstani regime’s crackdown on independent media started after the 2011 Zhanaozen massacre, when government forces killed more than a dozen peaceful protesters. Since then, independent media outlets such as Respublika, Vzglyad, Adam Bol, and Stan TV were targeted and dissolved forcibly. In July 2013, HRF published a legal report concluding that Kazakhstan violated international law by using overbroad and vague incitement charges such as "incitement to propaganda" and "incitement to social discord."
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.