U.S. criticizes Kazakhstan over media shutdown

ALMATY (Reuters) - The United States criticized Kazakhstan on Friday for closing two media outlets controlled by the son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and urged the Central Asian state to respect freedom of speech.

Kazakh officials on Thursday shut down the KTK TV channel and the Karavan newspaper for three months. Both are controlled by Rakhat Aliyev, a powerful political figure who is said to have fallen out with Nazarbayev.

The U.S. embassy said in a statement it was “disappointed with the decision”.

“We call on the government of Kazakhstan to honor its commitment to democratic reform and freedom of speech,” the embassy said. “We consider the right to communicate freely ideas and opinions as fundamental to democracy,” it said.

“We believe the public has the right to hear diverse points of view even if those views are different from those of the government or if they may be considered offensive by some.”

The statement came days after the Kazakh opposition criticized the United States for taking too soft a stance on what they see as the authoritarian rule of Nazarbayev.

Kazakh law enforcement agencies are investigating Aliyev on suspicion of his involvement in abducting two executives at Nurbank, a mid-size bank he controls.

Aliyev, currently Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Vienna, has not been available for comment since the criminal charges were made public on Wednesday.

Information Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, who oversees the media sector, defended the authorities.

“The general prosecutor’s office carried out its duties strictly in accordance with the law,” he told Channel 31 television.

Speaking about the press generally he added: “There is more than enough freedom in our country.”