Kazakh police raid local offices of Forbes magazine, news website

ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakh police raided the local offices of Forbes magazine and another news outlet on Monday and questioned three senior journalists as part of a libel probe begun at the request of a Kazakh businessman, the two outlets said.

Libel is a felony in the former Soviet republic, punishable by up to seven years in prison, a policy criticized by international media rights groups as stifling press freedom.

Askar Aukenov, editor-in-chief of the Kazakh edition of Forbes magazine, said on Monday police had raided its editorial office and taken Alexander Vorotilov, the magazine’s Russian deputy editor-in-chief, in for questioning.

Separately, news website, known for its muckraking style, said police had raided its office and taken editor-in-chief Marat Asipov and his deputy Sapa Mekebayev to a police office for questioning.

In a brief statement, Almaty police confirmed it was investigating a libel complaint against two news websites but said it could not disclose any other information.

Vorotilov told Reuters later that none of the three journalists had been charged but police had taken his computer, phone, voice recorder and work documents.

Businessman Zeinulla Kakimzhanov told Reuters he had filed the complaint after the two outlets failed to comply with a court verdict issued in his and his family’s civil case against them.

Kakimzhanov, a former government minister who has interests in wine-making among other businesses, won the lawsuit last year and the court ordered the outlets and their editors to pay him damages and withdraw all the news stories it had found libellous.

The outlets’ subsequent appeal was rejected and Forbes has since paid the damages, Aukenov told Reuters.

But Kakimzhanov told Reuters on Monday that had failed to withdraw the stories in question or apologize for running them, while Forbes expressed its disagreement with the court ruling as it withdrew the stories.

“What do I want?” Kakimzhanov said. “There is a court ruling that they must comply with.”

Reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Hugh Lawson