Lukpan Akhmedyarov has survived professional harassment, official censorship, and a murder attempt to press for human rights and independent journalism in Kazakhstan.
In April, the 36-year-old vocal critic of the authoritarian central government was confronted outside his home in the northwestern city of Uralsk by several attackers and was clubbed about the head, stabbed and shot with a pellet gun.
Akhmedyarov underwent surgery for head injuries and spent a month in the hospital recovering from the beating and from eight stab wounds and two pellet gun wounds to the torso.
Prosecutors in Uralsk said they were investigating the case as a murder attempt but there have been no arrests.
His colleagues at the independent weekly Uralskaya Nedelya and Akhmedyarov’s wife said they believed the attack was a reprisal for his professional work and civic activism, and for his membership in the “Nesoglasnykh” movement (“Malcontent’s Demonstrations.”).
“We knew that he was being watched, as were we,” Tamara Yeslyamova, the chief editor of Uralskaya Nedelya, was quoted as saying by the website www.uralskweek.kz.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement after the attack that Akhmedyarov’s reporting had been critical of the government and that the reporter had been the subject of at least three defamation suits.
“This near-fatal attack on Lukpan Akhmedyarov shows just how dangerous it is to be an independent investigative journalist in Kazakhstan,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said.
Akhmedyarov had earlier established a reputation for his investigations of official corruption and human rights abuses, as well as for challenging the government of Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic and now a strategically-important oil-producing state of 16.7 million.
His more recent work for Uralskaya Nedelya has made him a target for repeated threats and warnings, and he been stopped and frisked repeatedly by police on the pretext of drug searches.
In early 2008, Akhmedyarov was dismissed as the head of TDK 42 TV station’s news service after he challenged Uralsk’s mayor during a press conference.
The government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, classified as a Predator of Press Freedom by Reporters Without Borders, has responded harshly to a recent wave of social unrest with a crackdown by security forces.
The intimidation of independent news organizations has also increased since the bloody repression of a riot by workers in December 2011 in the Western town of Janaozen.
Kazakhstan is ranked 154th of 179 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2011-2012 published by Reporters Without Borders. It is also one of the countries placed “Under Surveillance” by Reporters Without Borders in 2012 because of its increasing use of online censorship.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which Kazakhstan chaired in 2010, has joined in calling on authorities to pursue Alhmedyarov’s attackers.
“It is of crucial importance to immediately investigate this crime, identify whether it is connected to the victim’s journalistic work and bring its perpetrators to justice,” Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s representative on media freedom, said in a statement.
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