United States Agency for Global Media

For RFE/RL journalists in Kazakhstan, impact comes at a cost

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Recent detentions and fines targeting two Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists in Kazakhstan suggest that the country’s new political uncertainty may be generating increased pressures for independent media.

On April 2, a regional court in western Kazakhstan upheld a lower court decision to fine correspondent Saniya Toiken the equivalent of $135 for refusing to follow police orders while covering a protest over jobs last month in the western city of Zhanaozen. Toiken is appealing the ruling.

The same day, Svetlana Glushkova, a correspondent for Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America, was fined the equivalent of $66 by a court in the Kazakh capital, now called Nur-Sultan, for allegedly assaulting a teenage girl while reporting on demonstrations there last month. Glushkova says the girl was trying to prevent her from documenting the arrests of several protesters. Video from the rally shows police and soldiers telling Glushkova and other correspondents to report about a nearby concert and “positive things,” and failing to intervene.

The protests, during which both Toiken and Glushkova were detained by police for several hours, took place on March 22, only days after President Nursultan Nazarbayev surprised audiences at home and abroad with the announcement of his resignation. RFE/RL deplored the detentions as “a blatant attempt to control media coverage of political events and intimidate independent journalists.”

RFE/RL’s live coverage of those protests and other unrest in the country was exceptional in a country dominated by state-controlled media, driving a record 17.9 million views in February and 17 million views in March on the Kazakh Service’s  YouTube feed.

Toiken, who was detained three times by police in February and March, is a recipient of the 2017 Courage in Journalism Award of the International Women’s Media Foundation.

RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, known locally as Radio Azattyq, provides a platform in both Kazakh and Russian for audience engagement and the free exchange of news and ideas about the most important issues facing the people of Kazakhstan. In 2018, the service’s azattyq.org website logged nearly 16 million visits and over 25 million page views. More than 387,000 people subscribe to its YouTube feed, and 178,000 follow its Instagram page.

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Contact Joanna Levison
Acting Director of Communications, Prague

Contact Martins Zvaners
Deputy Director of Communications, Washington, DC