Death Of Kazakh Journalist Raises Suspicions
Askhat Sharipzhan, an independent journalist in
Kazakhstan who worked mainly on the Internet, died today from
multiple skull fractures he sustained after being hit by a car as he
crossed the street. It appears the tragic event was simply the
result of a traffic accident, but there are some in Kazakhstan who
Prague, 20 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakh independent journalist
Askhat Sharipzhan died today of injuries he received in a traffic
accident on 16 July in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty.
Forty-year-old Sharipzhan was hit by a car as he crossed the street
and suffered multiple skull fractures. He is the brother of Merkhat
Sharipzhan, the director of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.
Journalists and opposition leader Zamanbek Nurkadilov have accused
the government of playing a role in Sharipzhan's death.
Police in Almaty have rejected these claims and say the driver of
the vehicle that struck Sharipzhan stopped and administered first
aid, called an ambulance, and has cooperated with authorities
investigating the accident.
The chief of Almaty's traffic police, Iztileu Bekturov, said
yesterday that an analysis of Sharipzhan's blood indicated the
journalist had been drinking before he was hit by the car. The
driver has been determined to be sober: "An analysis of Askhat
Sharipzhan's blood was done in hospital number 7. An analysis of the
blood of the driver, Kalzhanov, was also taken the night of the
accident. All these facts are in the records of our investigation.
Kalzhanov did not drink, he was sober, but the blood of Mr.
Sharipzhan was checked in hospital number 7 and alcohol was found."
Aigul Omarova is one of Sharipzhan's co-workers at the Navigator
information website. She visited the hospital on Saturday after
doctors had spent several hours operating on Sharipzhan. She
expressed doubt about the police's version of the incident: "I don't
believe these words [from the police] because we were at the
hospital on Saturday and spoke with the doctor who did the
operation. The doctor and the head of the surgery department said
there was no alcohol in his blood."
Sharipzhan had interviewed some of the leading figures in
Kazakhstan's political scene -- mainly figures from the opposition.
He had also focused on corruption scandals, and said he had
frequently been the target of threats.
At the time of the incident, Sharipzhan was preparing to publish an
article about Zamanbek Nurkadilov, the former emergency situations
head and current opposition leader.
Nurkadilov has been calling for the country's president, Nursultan
Nazarbaev, to step down from office. Nurkadilov had also announced
that he would run for the country's top post in the next
Nurkadilov and Sharipzhan had agreed to meet on 18 July for a final
interview before the article's completion.
Speaking before news of the journalist's death became public,
Nurkadilov speculated that Sharipzhan's accident may have had
something to do with the article: "Askhat is a brave journalist who
published not only my opinions but the opinions of many people. I
can't escape the feeling that he was a victim because of me. I
understand completely that Nazarbaev and his circle have no need for
such capable journalists."
Yuri Mizinov is the editor of the Navigator website. He said he and
his staff have been searching for the article that Sharipzhan was
working on but so far have been unable to find it: "We couldn't find
the interview [he was working on] anywhere. What was written there,
no one but Askhat knows."
Mizinov said Sharipzhan's tape recorder was also missing.
Sharipzhan's case bears a resemblance to those of other people whose
work had recently brought them into conflict with the government. In
January 2002, human-rights activist Aleksei Pugaev was the victim of
a hit-and-run accident. In November 2002, independent journalist
Nuri Muftakh was run over in the parking lot of a bus station. Both
July 22, 2004. By Bruce Pannier. The Kazakh Service contributed to