ENGRUS

Kazakhstan: Government Critic Flees, Seeks Refuge in Europe

A few days after going missing, Kazakhstani government critic and journalist Ramazan Yesergepov has resurfaced in Paris and announced he is moving into exile to avoid arrest.

“Everything is fine with Ramazan Yesergepov, he is under the protection of Reporters Without Borders. He left the country because he suspected that there were plans to fabricate a new trumped-up criminal case against him,” journalist and colleague Rozlana Taukina wrote on her Facebook page on August 4.

Yesergepov was formerly editor of an obscure and sporadically published Almaty-based newspaper called Alma-Ata Info. In August 2009, he was sentenced to three years in jail for purportedly reproducing classified information in an article in his newspaper. He has since lobbied to have his conviction overturned, arguing that he was denied a fair trial.

Taukina cited Yesergepov as saying he believed he was going to be set up to avoid him continuing to appeal his conviction.

Yesergepov said he believes the last straw for him may have come on July 29, when he participated in a march across Almaty with appeals addressed to representatives offices of EU nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to raise awareness about political prisoners in Kazakhstan. Although nobody was detained by police on the day, Yesergepov says that police later informed him they intended to file a complaint for organizing an unauthorized rally.

His concerns may not be without foundation.

In mid-May, Yesergepov, 61, who heads the Journalists in Trouble nongovernmental group, was victim of a stabbing on a train as he was heading for meeting with Western diplomats to raise the issue of a jailed newspaper editor, Zhanbolat Mamay, who is awaiting trial on charges that he used his outlet to launder money. Mamay’s supporters say the case against him is political motivated.

No suspects in the attack have yet been identified, but Yesergepov said he believes it was motivated by his activism.

When Yesergepov suddenly went missing around August 2, colleagues feared the worst or that he had been detained indefinitely, but with the news of his self-imposed exile, the ranks of foreign-based opposition activists has grown a little larger.