The undersigned members of IFEX, the global network promoting and defending freedom of expression, are writing to express our profound concern over the arrest and sustained harassment of Kazakh journalist Zhanbolat Mamay, editor-in-chief of the opposition paper Sayasi kalam/ Tribuna.
Mamay is accused of laundering money allegedly embezzled from BTA Bank by Mukhtar Ablayazov, opposition leader and former head of BTA Bank between 2005-2009, punishment for which is a major fine or imprisonment for three to seven years. Zhanbolat Mamay has categorically denied his guilt, and in a statement on 11 February stated that the accusations against him are politically motivated. Given the embezzlement occurred in 2009 and Mamay did not become head of Sayasi kalam/ Tribuna until 2012, this concern appears to be warranted.
Mamay is known for his opposition to proposed land reforms, and was previously charged with 'inciting social discord' due to his visits to Zhanaozen during the strikes in 2012.
On the evening of 11 February, A. Baydauletova, a Kazakh judge, announced her decision to arrest and detain Mamay for two months. On 17 February, without explanation, Mamay was transferred from quarantine cell No. 81, where first-time convicts are held in custody, to cell No. 197, a group cell for convicts serving sentences for particularly serious crimes. Mamay reports that in this cell he was beaten and lost consciousness. On 21 February a medical officer and a special prosecutor for supervision of the detention centers who visited the facility examined Mamay and confirmed that he had visible grazes and bruises which the administration of the facility didn't properly record. Mamay's spouse Inga Imanbay has also received a series of extortionate phone calls seeking 2 million KZT. The callers threatened Mamay with murder, and demanded that Mamay refuse to engage in politics.
Without explanation, Mamay was transferred to cell No. 197, a group cell for convicts serving sentences for particularly serious crimes. Mamay reports that in this cell he was beaten and lost consciousness.
On 24 February, despite the facts, the Almaty Prosecutor's Office and the Committee on Penitentiary System of the Ministry of Internal Affairs distributed a press release stating that Mamay was not subjected to any pressure, beating and extortion. The Committee in defense of Mamay on 26 February denied this information and re-stated the evidence of beating and extortion.
Taking all of these points into consideration, we are concerned both for Mamay and his family's future safety and for the impartiality of the ongoing case against him. In particular, the placement of Mamay, who has no prior convictions, in a cell with those convicted of serious crimes appears designed to put pressure on him and seriously jeopardizes his personal safety.
In view of the above, we urge you to take immediate action to:
- Investigate thoroughly Mamay's beating in the detention center, as well as his unexplained transfer to cell 197, and bring to justice all those responsible;
- Stop the persecution of Zhanbolat Mamay and ensure his fair trial by impartial authorities at all stages of the criminal proceeding against him, in accordance with the international obligations of Kazakhstan;
- Investigate the threats received by Mamay's spouse, and guarantee the future personal safety of Mamay and his family.
ActiveWatch – Media Monitoring Agency
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Albanian Media Institute
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Committee to Protect Journalists
Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Globe International Center
Index on Censorship
International Press Centre
Journaliste en danger
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
Reporters Without Borders
Social Media Exchange - SMEX
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers