Global Freedom of Expression

The Case of ADAMbol, Kazakhstan’s Independent Newspaper

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    February 26, 2015
  • Outcome
    Ban/Censorship
  • Case Number
    2k-2580/2014
  • Region & Country
    Kazakhstan, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    Appellate Court
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law, Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship
  • Tags
    Censorship, Media Pluralism, Freedom of press, Journalism

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

ADAM bol, a print and online magazine in Kazakhstan published an interview with a man calling for the creation of an international military battalion to help Ukraine uphold its territorial integrity. The Almaty City Hall requested the court to shut down the newspaper, citing that the article was war propaganda. Courts of first instance and appeals relied on expert testimony and ruled to permanently shut down ADAM bol.


Facts

ADAM bol is a print and online magazine in Kazakhstan. On August 20, 2014, the magazine published an article titled “Us and Someone’s War” (“Наши на чужой войне). The article focused on an interview with a Kazakh activist, Aidos Sadykov, notorious for his calls for Kazakh citizens to come to Ukraine to fight Putin.

In the article, Sadykov discussed that he and a few others are creating  an anti-terrorist international battalion that would defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity. He explained that the battalion’s members will consist of volunteers from a range of countries who understand that Putin will not stop at Ukraine. Nowhere in the article did he explicitly state that the battalion is seeking members or called for persons to join.

At the time of the interview, Sadykov resided in Ukraine after fleeing from Kazakhstan with his family over claims of political pressure. Sadykov had already served over a year and a half in prison for charges of hooliganism (rioting) between 2010 and 2012.

The Almaty City Hall found the article to be war agitation. Specifically, the publication was charged with violating Article 20 of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which prohibits propaganda and incitement of:

  • violent overthrow of the constitutional regime;
  • violations to the territorial integrity of Kazakhstan;
  • undermining the security of the nation;and
  • war, social, racial, national, religious, and tribal superiority, and a culture of violence.

On November 20, 2014, the Almaty City Hall requested and was granted a court injunction to permanently shut down ADAM bol’s print and online publication. ADAM bol challenged the injunction in Medeyink Court in Almaty. On December 24, 2014, the Medeyink court upheld the injunction.

On February 26, 2015, the Almaty City Court upheld the decision to shut down Adam bol permanently.


Decision Overview

The court, citing the “Yekaterinburg Declaration of the Heads of the Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation,” defined  threats to informational security  as ones that harm the general political and socioeconomic systems, and moral and cultural beliefs. A characteristic of such threats is misinformation about the political system, social foundations, internal and foreign policies, important political processes, moral and cultural values; as well as propaganda of terrorism, separatism, extremism; and incitement of national, racial and religious hate.

The court did not specify the legal tests used to assess Adam bol‘s publication for unlawful content, instead, it relied heavily on experts. Analysis of expert testimony singled out the following elements of the crime of war propaganda or dissemination:

  • intentional dissemination of
  • propaganda
  • through mass media.

On the issue of intent, the court relied on expert testimony to conclude whether intent to disseminate propaganda was in the article. The government experts, with which the court agreed, did not separate the analysis of intent from one of propaganda. Thus, in the eyes of the court, the intent element was present if the propaganda element was present.

In analyzing the propaganda element, the prosecution presented a political analysis of the publication conducted by the dean of the political science department at the Kazakh National University. The dean highlighted the alleged use of the “believable lie” technique in the article to influence readers. The expert concluded that the use of the “believable lie” and other techniques was intended by the author to influence Kazakhstan’s residents to approve of the war in Ukraine and to participate in the war as part of the international battalion.

ADAM bol presented a linguistic analysis of its publication conducted by the dean of journalism school at Turan University, Kazakhstan. The dean explained that the article attempted to highlight that there are diverse opinions on the developments in Ukraine, and was not propaganda or a call for violence. Moreover, the dean explained that only a specialist of international public law has the expertise to identify propaganda of war in the article. Thus, the court called for such expert.

The public international law expert, a PhD from the Kazakh National University, concluded that the court should rely on the statements of the prosecution’s political analyst because his education qualifies him as an expert on such questions. He also stated that ADAM bol‘s expert has gone beyond her relevant expertise by analyzing the article for existence of propaganda and calls for war. The court agreed with his reasoning.

The parts of the article cited by the prosecution and extremist and war propaganda were the direct statement of the interviewer and not the magazine. The court also stated that at issue was the propaganda of extremism and war in the interview parts of the publication, rather than the editorial comments.

Taking all of the above into account, the court ruled that ADAM bol‘s article was war propaganda.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The case greatly affected freedom of expression in Kazakhstan as it imposed the harshest punishment on a publication – a shut down – for simply publishing an interview with one of its citizens involved in the Ukrainian conflict.

Moreover, the court did not consider the intent of the publication or the likelihood of it leading to any harm, thus lowering the threshold for censorship.

Even if Adam Bol’s article about the recruitment of fighters to support Ukraine does constitute war agitation, the decision to shut down the magazine permanently was disproportionate. If the Kazakh government had a problem with a specific article, a simple injunction to pull the edition in which the article was published should have sufficed.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Kaz., Const., art. 20

    The Article prohibits war propaganda and calls for a violent overthrow of the government

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

The decision came from the court of appeals.

Official Case Documents

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