When the internet connection came back on January 10, people’s phones started ringing incessantly. “I was so happy to finally hear from my colleagues, they were bravely reporting from the squares [across the country], they even witnessed the death of one of the demonstrators. They fulfilled their duties as journalists to the end,” recalls Maitanov.
In Almaty, other journalists also reported the horrible feeling of having witnessed such violence. “It was really scary. We saw people being beaten, people being shot. I had never seen anything like that. And there we were,” an independent media reporter told openDemocracy .
Attacks on the press were recorded from all sides. Law enforcement and the most violent fringes of the January 5 riots threatened and beat journalists, who wore blue press vests to be recognized. Instead of being a safety instrument, the press vest has become a target.
“Within hours on January 5, the situation – where protesters were defending and protecting the press – changed, and journalists covering the events on the ground came under direct threats and attacks,” Nurmukhanbetov said.
The reaction against journalists
Across the country, meanwhile, journalists and editors were detained.
On January 5, Lukpan Akmedyarov, editor-in-chief of Uralskaya Nedelya, an independent media outlet covering the northwestern region of Kazakhstan, was detained for violating the state of emergency, although he later reported that he was mainly questioned about his possible affiliation to prohibited organizations. On January 7, Daryn Nursapar, editor of the East Kazakhstan newspaper Altai News, was also arrested in the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk and accused for participating in an illegal assembly, he will serve a 15-day prison sentence.
Previously, on January 4, unknown persons shot the son of Amangeldy Batyrbekov, a freelance journalist who broke a tragic story of child rape in the south of the country in 2019 and has since come under pressure from the authorities.
In a report, Adil Soz chronic incidents involving journalists across the country including insults, beatings, arrests and at least one fatal shooting in Almaty, as unidentified persons shot down a convoy of local Alma TV operators, killing the driver Muratkhan Bazarbayev and injuring Diasken Baitbayev.
International Press Freedom Observatory Committee to Protect Journalists echoes Adil Soz’s reports and urged the authorities in Kazakhstan to “fully investigate the attacks on the country’s press”.
But while journalists and activists are concerned about press freedom, on social media Almaty’s middle class have come out strongly against the looting of their city, calling for arrests and a stronger presence of law enforcement.
“Many – including ‘liberals’ – will now actively support increased authoritarianism and censorship,” Moldabekov said on Facebook. Publish depicting a grim scenario for press freedom in the country. Similar calls to reform the police and increase their power were made in 2018 after an Olympic figure skater, Denis Ten, was murdered in Almaty.
Since the authorities track record with the press, local journalists expect more policing to mean more pressure at best, violence against them at worst.