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Suspected attackers of PMA winner Lukpan Akhmedyarov brought to trial

June 24, 2013

In a development not often seen in countries with poor records of media freedom, the attackers of Kazakhstan journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov were brought to trial in Uralask last month.
Akhmedyarov (36), who reports to the daily Uralskaya Nedelya, won the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism in October 2012. Speaking at award ceremony at the Press Club in Washington DC, chief guest Robert O. Blake, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said, “Mr. Akhmedyarov’s continued activism in the face of this adversity is what makes him such an outstanding selection for this award.”
Assaulted in April 2012, Akhmedyarov was “stabbed repeatedly, shot with an air pistol and beaten on the head. He was hospitalized for one month and then underwent a long course of therapy,” said Reporters without Borders (RSF).
Significantly, there appears to be a move by Kazakh authorities to find the real culprits. In May 2012 some suspects were arrested but released soon because they were, as RSF described them, “scapegoats.” In a statement on May 22 this year however, RSF said, “[t]he investigation has been conducted professionally since it was restarted about one year ago – at least so far. Procedural safeguards have been respected, and the planned nature of the attack and its connection with Akhmedyarov’s work have been recognized.”
RSF that tracks media freedom issues around the world and has placed Kazakhstan 160th of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Index in 2012 and names the country’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev a predator of press freedom.
RSF’s statement said that four persons are standing trial who have been charged with attempted murder. Two of them – Almaz Batyrkhairov and Manarbek Akbulatov – are accused of attacking the journalist, which was planned by Askhat Tahkambetov. The fourth suspect had driven the vehicle which the attackers rode. The two attackers had admitted they had assaulted Akhmedyarov, but “to scare him, not to kill him.”
RSF quotes Akhmedyarov as having told the organisation in a January 2013 interview “he had every reason to trust the new investigation” and that he had identified two of the suspects as his attackers. In an interview in October 2012 with RSF however, he voiced scepticism on obtaining justice through the country’s courts.
Although four persons have been identified as involved in the assault the RSF statement says the assault was “under the orders of an unknown party.” This might be the reason that has prompted RSF to strike a cautionary note. “It remains essential that the investigation go to the heart of the matter by discovering those who ordered this savage attack … The new trial session must be completely transparent.”
The April 2012 attack was not the only occasion the journalist was targeted for exposing corruption. In 2008 he was dismissed from service from TDK 42 television and was repeatedly subject to defamation suits for exposing official corruption, said the Peter Mackler Award blog introducing the award’s 2012 winner.
Receiving the award Akhmedyarov said, “It is a big honour for me to receive this prize. I look on it however not as an award for my service but as a symbol of hope and optimism for all of my colleagues.”
Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.