Julie has written in support of democratic journalists and human rights defenders from Kazakhstan, Respublika, in order to raise aware of the persecution against them by the Kazakh government through law suits filed in the US.
The letter sent follows a meeting with Respublika in the European Parliament and work with the Open Dialogue Foundation. Julie has hoped that this will be a way of raising the case to the attention of US authorities. No reply has been received.
Brussels, 12th of May, 2016
Congressman Christopher H. Smith,
Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
(U.S. Helsinki Commission),
Senator Roger F. Wicker,
Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
(U.S. Helsinki Commission),
234 Ford House Office Building
3rd and D Streets SW
20515, Washington D.C., USA
CC: Mr. David Killion, Chief of Staff;
Ms. Janice Helwig, Policy Advisor;
Mr. Robert Hand, Policy Advisor,
Dear Mr. Smith,
Dear Mr. Wicker,
As a Member of the European Parliament, and one of the initiators and authors of the Parliament’s resolution on freedom of expression in Kazakhstan, in March 2016, I would like to raise with you case of “Respublika”, a Kazakh opposition website. “Respublika” and its journalists face lawsuits in the United States, where they use hosting and server providers.
The case against “Respublika”, the largest Kazakh independent media outlet started in the United States at the beginning of 2015. At around that time, gigabytes of leaked e-mails between high-level Kazakh politicians and public officials were published anonymously on WordPress. While the sources of these “KazakhLeaks” were not disclosed, European and Kazakh journalists analyzed the credibility of these e-mails and published information on massive corruption, persecution of opposition politicians, civil society activists, independent journalists and other illegal activities by the Kazakh government.
In response to these publications, two lawsuits against ‘unknown defendants’ were filed by two American law firms on behalf of the Kazakh government, one lawsuit filed through the misuse of the federal Computer Fraud And Abuse Act (CFAA). Both lawsuits claimed that unknown hackers had stolen the correspondence of Kazakh officials, therefore de facto confirming the authenticity of the e-mails in question. Kazakhstan demanded that dissemination of the stolen materials is stopped immediately and all publications that used these materials be removed from the internet. These lawsuits are an attempt to silence independent journalists like Ms. Irina Petrushova, editor-in-chief of “Respublika”, and halt their activity on publishing inconvenient information from “KazakhLeaks”.
Since “Respublika” published articles based on “KazakhLeaks”, its hosting provider, registered in the United States, was threatened by the Kazakh government through an American law firm to remove nearly 50 published articles. Facebook was asked to provide the contact information of people behind the “Respublika’s” Facebook profile. Thanks to court rulings in New York and California, the ban on the publishing of the stolen correspondence does not apply to “Respublika”, and Facebook is not obliged to provide any information. Possession of such sensitive data by the Kazakh authorities might exacerbated the situation of Kazakh journalists in the country and abroad.
While this case pertains to specific opposition groups and one oppressive government, what is at stake is a much broader issue that is crucial in this age of digital globalization. The right to freedom of expression on the internet and the ability to criticize and to expose oppressive regimes or human rights abuses are being threated through a legal loophole. As elected representatives, we must raise this issue so that such methods are not used by others to silence legitimate political expression.
I would therefore like to ask you to give your and attention to this case, in the hope that the United States will not allow for persecution of any foreign independent media outlets in the country, or misuse of its federal law, given particularly the great risk for safety and life of independents journalists, as well as the direct involvement of authoritarian state governments.
For more information on the case, you can consult the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents “Respublika” pro bono in the United States.
Julie Ward MEP
 EP resolution on freedom of expression in Kazakhstan (10 March, 2016): http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/ficheprocedure.do?reference=2016/2607%28RSP%29&l=en
 EP resolution on freedom of expression in Kazakhstan (10 March, 2016): http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/ficheprocedure.do?reference=2016/2607%28RSP%29&l=en / OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (26 December, 2015): http://www.osce.org/fom/212731 & (26 January, 2016): http://www.osce.org/fom/218471 / Amnesty International (21 December, 2015): https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur57/3123/2015/en/ / Freedom House (22 December, 2015): https://freedomhouse.org/article/kazakhstan-authorities-harass-websites-owner-and-journalist / Human Rights Foundation (6 January, 2016): https://humanrightsfoundation.org/news/hrf-to-kazakhstan-drop-criminal-defamation-charges-against-news-editor-00502 / Open Dialog Foundation (18 December, 2015): http://en.odfoundation.eu/a/7148,kazakhstan-searches-of-independent-journalists-premises-and-criminal-prosecutions-for-spreading-false-information & (31 December, 2015): http://en.odfoundation.eu/a/7163,kazakhstan-journalists-suspected-of-spreading-false-information-arrested