Kazakh Watchdog Stops Monitoring Shrinking Media Freedom

Kazakh Watchdog Stops Monitoring Shrinking Media Freedom
# 09 January 2013 18:19 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. A media watchdog in Kazakhstan said on Wednesday it is suspending its monitoring of freedom of speech violations, alleged to be on the rise due to a governmental clampdown, APA reports quoting Ria Novosti.

The monitoring program is being put on hold indefinitely due to a lack of funding, the Adil Soz Foundation said on its website.

The Soros Foundation used to foot the bill, but ended its support this year in order to focus on its projects related to legislative work, the head of Adil Soz, Tamara Kaleyeva, told RIA Novosti.

The monitoring program employed 14 agents across the country, all of them journalists or lawyers capable of obtaining insider information on rights violations in the media, Kaleyeva said by telephone from the Kazakh capital Almaty.

The agents were paid a modest $100 a month, which put the total annual price tag for the program at $16,800 – still an unaffordable sum for the foundation, she said.

The authorities’ refusal to provide information is the most frequent freedom of press violation in Kazakhstan, though attacks on journalists also featured prominently in Adil Soz’s reports, Kaleyeva said, adding that the fund’s publications have forced officials to remedy the violations “in some cases.”

Adil Soz tried to obtain funding from other donors or foreign embassies in Almaty, but had no luck so far, Kaleyeva said. The group, created in 1999, worked with the likes of USAID, UNICEF and OSCE in the past.

Kazakhstan, an oil-exporting nation of 16 million in Central Asia, ranked 175th of 197 countries in the 2012 Freedom of the Press rating by US-based watchdog Freedom House.

Though media freedom gradually shrunk in the country over the 2000s, the process snowballed following bloody riots in the city of Zhanaozen in the country’s west, where sacked oil industry workers clashed with police in December 2011 after a seven-month peaceful strike against the firings yielded no result. Fourteen protesters were killed, according to official figures.

The government punished corrupt city and police officials who provoked the riots, but also cracked down on opposition leaders and media outlets that supported the protesters. A leader of an unregistered party Alga was jailed for seven years last fall, and a television channel, several print publications and dozens of websites were closed.

“We’ll soon have it like in Turkmenistan, where they don’t have any problems with freedom of the press because they have no free press,” Kaleyeva said.