In a Test Case, Activists Seek Release of Kazakh Reporter

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Rights activists on Monday asked Kazakhstan's security services to end their investigation of a journalist accused of publishing state secrets in what is seen as a key test for the country in advance of its chairmanship of a trans-Atlantic rights organization next year.

The activists pleaded for the release of Ramazan Yesergepov, a newspaper editor who was detained last week for purportedly publishing confidential state correspondence in November.

Yesergepov was seized after he published the letters in Alma-Ata Info, a small-circulation weekly newspaper based in the commercial capital, Almaty. He claimed in an accompanying article that the head of a branch of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee in the southern Zhambyl region had attempted to influence a local prosecutor and judge in a tax case.

The 52-year-old journalist has refused to give evidence to the security services and has been on hunger strike since last week in a bid to have the investigation transferred to the state prosecutor, his wife, Raushan Yesergepova, told reporters.

Investigators in Zhambyl region, where Yesergepov is being held, declined to comment on his current physical condition or on progress in his case.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has also called on Kazakh authorities to release Yesergepova.

The journalist's detention comes as Kazakhstan is preparing to take over the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, in 2010.

In its bid to secure chairmanship of the OSCE, Kazakhstan committed to a wide range of democratic reforms, including improving press liberties.

Human Rights Watch said last month that Kazakh authorities have failed to live up to its promises to the OSCE and that media remains largely in control of the state and government loyalists.