The International Press Institute (IPI) is disappointed at the failure on 13 August of Kazakhstan’s highest court to quash a prison sentence for a newspaper editor.

The three-year sentence handed down to Kazakh Ramazan Yesergepov, editor-in-chief of Alma-ata Info, a small-circulation independent weekly newspaper, sparked worldwide condemnation and has cast a dark shadow over the democratic credentials of a country that will assume chairmanship of the high-profile transatlantic security and rights body, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), in 2010.

Ramazan Yesergepov was detained in January and accused of revealing state secrets after his newspaper published correspondence between a Kazakh businessman and the country’s National Security Committee. The correspondence appeared to implicate the two parties in corruption.

“Journalists must be free to publish information that is in the public interest,” said IPI Director David Dadge. “They should not be arrested and unjustly imprisoned for doing so. Such repressive practices seriously damage Kazakhstan’s democratic credentials, and are all the more alarming in light of the country’s upcoming role as chair of the OSCE – an organisation that views media freedom as one of its core values.“

The OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media, Miklos Haraszti, told IPI: “The authorities have to acknowledge that investigative journalism is society’s safeguard against corruption, and give legal protection to explorations instead of punishing them. Punishing investigative journalism, instead of legally protecting it, is a violation of OSCE commitments.”

IPI has repeatedly voiced concern at restrictions imposed on the media in Kazakhstan and again urges the Kazakh government to decriminalise defamation and abolish media licensing requirements – two of the greatest obstacles to independent and investigative media reporting. Furthermore, intimidation and violence against journalists, and the impunity that too often follows, remain effective forms of censorship.

Kazakhstan lobbied for the OSCE chairmanship by promising a package of election and media reforms. Critics say the country has only made superficial changes that fail to fulfil OSCE requirements.