During violence and protests in Kazakhstan this week, a media worker was killed and a video journalist was injured when their vehicle came under attack.
Muratkhan Bazarbayev, who worked for Almaty TV as a driver, died when the station’s vehicle was shot at during clashes in the city of Almaty on Wednesday. A camera operator for the station was hospitalized in the same attack, according to the news outlet and media rights groups.
The news crew was covering protests that began late last week in response to a fuel price hike and evolved into mass unrest and violence in the capital and other cities.
Dozens of protesters have died after security forces opened fire. Journalists have also been arrested or injured while covering the unrest.
The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) called on authorities to examine the circumstances of Bazarbayev’s death and warned of the risks to media workers.
“Journalists across Kazakhstan are currently working in extremely challenging conditions while documenting the unrest, from indiscriminate attacks by protesters to detentions and brutality from security services,” the IPI’s advocacy officer Jamie Wiseman said in a statement.
“It is vital that the safety of all journalists and media workers is guaranteed and that the freedom of the press is fully respected in the wake of the unrest,” Wiseman added.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said journalists, including those clearly identified as press, have been arrested. One of them, Uralskaya Nedelya editor Lukpan Akhmedyarov, was questioned for several hours about alleged “extremist activities.” Others were injured by rubber bullets and stun grenades.
Two journalists with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) were also detained. RFE/RL and VOA are both independent networks under the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
Police in the capital, Nur-Sultan, detained RFE/RL editor Darkhan Umirbekov at a protest on Tuesday. A few hours earlier, Almaty bureau chief Kasym Amanzhol was detained briefly after he filmed protests.
Access to news websites including RFE/RL, Orda.kz and KazTag has been blocked, along with some messaging platforms, and the internet was suspended throughout the country Thursday, RSF said. Internet was restored briefly that day for a televised address by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Kazakh authorities have condemned the violence and protests, with Tokayev blaming “bandits” and referring to the unrest as a “terrorist attack.”
In a separate televised national address on Friday, Tokayev issued a shoot-to-kill order, saying, “Terrorists continue to damage state and private property and use weapons against civilians.”
The head of RFE/RL, Jamie Fly, said that at this unstable time, Kazakhstan should allow journalists to “report the facts as they unfold.”
“Reports of gunfire and other violence directed at those reporting on these protests, are deeply concerning — as are attempts to limit the flow of information within and out of the country, by targeting the internet and social media and blocking media websites, including that of our Kazakh Service,” Fly said in a statement.
Following an election in 2019, Kazakhstan appeared to be opening up to allow greater freedom of expression, though the state sought to control the internet and block access to some news websites and social media platforms, RSF data show. The country ranks 155 out of 180 countries where 1 is freest on the watchdog’s press freedom index.