The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is calling on Kazakhstan to drop the criminal case against a blogger and journalist who went on trial earlier this month on charges of participating in the activities of a banned organization.
In a statement on March 31, the New York-based media freedom watchdog urged the Kazakh authorities to immediately release Aigul Otepova from house arrest, drop the charges against her, and “allow her to work safely and freely.”
Journalists in Kazakhstan “should not be persecuted for their independent reporting, and it is authorities’ responsibility to ensure journalists’ safety, not to intimidate and pressure them,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna.
Otepova’s trial started in the capital, Nur-Sultan, on March 15, with the journalist attending the hearings remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Authorities accused her of supporting the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) opposition movement, which has been labeled as an extremist group and banned in the country.
Otepova denies participating in any political movements and says the case against her is retaliation for her political coverage.
If convicted, the journalist could face up to two years of imprisonment.
Amnesty International has said that Otepova was “a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted solely for the peaceful expression of her views.”
Otepova was detained in mid-September and put under house arrest after she placed a post on Facebook criticizing official efforts to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
In November, she was placed in a psychiatric clinic for 18 days for a mandatory mental health evaluation. The journalist was released on December 11 and remained under house arrest.
Human rights groups have criticized the Kazakh government for years for persecuting independent and opposition journalists.
Rights activists in Kazakhstan have criticized authorities for using Soviet-era method of stifling dissent by placing opponents in psychiatric clinics.