Kazakhstan: Independent Journalists Sentenced

A court in Kazakstan’s capital sentenced a prominent father and son pair of journalists to prison for tax evasion and embezzlement, in a move rights groups have denounced as an attack on the press.

mataevSeitkazy Mataev stands in court (Photo: Facebook Mataev's Committee)Judge Akbulat Kurmantaev sentenced Seitkazy Mataev to six years in a penal colony. His son, Aset Mataev, was given a five-year sentence.

Both Mataevs were senior members of Kazakhstan’s press. Seitkazy was the head of the Kazakh Journalist’s Union and the chair of the National Press Club of Kazakhstan. The younger Mataev was director of the independent Kazakh news agency KazTag.

Kazakh authorities in February charged the Mataevs with embezzling 340 million tenge (US$ 1.02 million) and evading 327 million tenge in tax. 

Both Mataevs vehemently denied the charges against them, saying that they were instead being pursued for their senior positions in the independent press.

"This court is not only hearing my son and I. This is Kazakh journalism on trial. This is free speech in Kazakhstan on trial," the elder Mataev was quoted by Fergana news agency as saying during a Sept. 27 hearing.

Seitkazy Mataev had harshly criticized the Kazakh government’s adoption of laws restricting free speech and the media, editor in chief of the Moscow-based Fergana news agency Daniil Kislov told the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

"Prior to the verdict, the Mataevs were real journalists. Positive public figures, honest and dedicated to their professional duty," Kislov said.

"To those who know them personally, all of the charges appear to be unfounded."

Organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists and the European Parliament have denounced the charges as politically motivated.