Kazakhstan - Journalist missing after announcing intent to shed light on corruption

Reporters Without Borders is very worried about Tokbergen Abiyev, a journalist who went missing in the Kazakh capital of Astana on 20 December shortly after announcing that he would reveal important facts about corruption at a news conference the next day. Abiyev heads the “Zakon i Pravosudie” (Law and Justice) Media Alliance and is the former editor of a newspaper of the same name. He is also the founder and editor of the Abiyev.kz news website.

“There is little doubt that Abiyev’s disappearance is linked to the news conference he had planned to give the next day,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the Kazakh authorities to carry out a rapid investigation and do everything possible to locate him. The probability that his disappearance is linked to his work as a journalist must be taken seriously by the police in charge of the case, who must guarantee the impartiality of their investigation. Abiyev’s life may be at risk and every second counts.”

After returning to his office at around 9 p.m. on 20 December, Abiyev went out again about an hour later saying he was going to get information for the next day’s news conference and would return soon, fellow journalist Andrey Taranov said. He has not been seen since and did answer any of the calls that his colleagues began making to him shortly after midnight.

In an email he sent to Astana-based journalists earlier in the day, Abiyev wrote: “Dear Colleagues, Tomorrow, 21 December (…) an exclusive news conference will be held [with the title of] ‘A corrupt person must go to prison.’ You will not be disappointed. Your presence is expected.” The email also said that the news conference would be about “the Astana government’s corruption and despotism.”

Abiyev’s wife reported his disappearance to the Astana police on 22 December. A message was also sent to the National Security Committee (KNB). The police say they are currently conducting preliminary enquiries.

Abiyev was released from prison last May on completing the three-year sentence he received in 2008, when he was Zakon i Pravosudie’s editor. He was convicted of giving a bribe to a representative of the financial police to obtain confidential information about judicial police officers. Abiyev said his arrest was directly linked to his work as a journalist.

One of his Zakon i Pravosudie colleagues, Oralgaisha Omarshanova, went missing in 2007 and was never found.

Abiyev’s disappearance comes amid a dramatic decline in the climate for the media in Kazakhstan. The past 12 months have seen an unprecedented increase in persecution of independent and opposition journalists culminating in a recent ban on the main national opposition media.