Kazakhstan Tries RFE Correspondent In Libel Case

A verdict is due Wednesday in the trial of a correspondent for RFE’s Kazakh Service, Radio Azattyq, on charges of libel that carry the potential of hefty fines and a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Alima Abdirova, who was denied a lawyer at her trial over the weekend, is being sued over findings published by an NGO last May alleging child abuse at a boarding school in Kazakhstan’s northwestern city of Aqtobe. Abdirova is head of the group, Aru Ana, that conducted the investigation. The suit, filed by the school’s former director, claims the school was portrayed unfairly and cites Abdirova’s NGO work, not her journalism.

Abdirova, a freelance correspondent for RFE in western Kazakhstan since 2009, told RFE that she believes the libel case against her is retaliation by Kazakhstan’s State Security Committee (KNB) for her news coverage of security issues in the Aqtobe region.

Abdirova was subjected to intimidation after reporting on a suicide bombing this spring and armed clashes between police and alleged religious extremists in July. Authorities attempted to restrict information about the suicide bombing, detaining a local cameraman and erasing photos taken by journalists and witnesses at the scene of the blast. A regional TV station aired a report on Islamic militancy and posted Abdirova’s picture with the caption “accomplice” on the screen. Following the July incident, a local blogger labeled her and other RFE correspondents “the devil’s advocates.”