Court Acquits Kazakh Journalist Sentenced On Libel Charges

TURKISTAN, Kazakhstan -- A court in Kazakhstan’s southern city of Turkistan has acquitted journalist Amangeldy Batyrbekov, who was sentenced to two years and three months in prison on libel charges in September.

Judge Taubai Qadyrbaev of the Turkistan Regional Court on January 9 accepted Batyrbekov's appeal and ruled that he be immediately released from custody and offered apologies to the journalist "on behalf of the state and the court."

Batyrbekov left the courtroom a free man as dozens of supporters chanted "Long Live Justice!"

A lower court in the town of Saryaghash, on September 23 had found Batyrbekov guilty of insulting the dignity and honor of a local education official, Bakhtiyar Abdiev, in a Facebook post entitled "Idiocy in Keles" and sentenced him the same day. Batrybekov has denied any wrongdoing.

In November, the Turkistan Regional Court ruled that the conclusion of a linguistic commission on Batyrbekov's online posts, which were written in Kazakh, "do not correspond to regulations and therefore, additional linguistic studies must be performed on the posts."

In 2017, Batyrbekov was sentenced to 18 months of freedom limitation -- a suspended sentence with parole-like restrictions, for insulting a deputy prosecutor in the Saryaghash district in a newspaper article.

The Almaty-based Adil Soz (A Just Word) human rights group has called Batyrbekov a prisoner of conscience, while the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have called for all charges to be dropped.

International human rights organizations have called on Kazakhstan to revoke an article in the Criminal Code that sets out criminal prosecution for libel instead of making it a civil case.