Two Kazakh newspapers on Wednesday criticised a libel suit brought by President Nursultan Nazarbayev's son-in-law against them, saying it was an attempt to muzzle the country's independent media.
Kazakhstan holds the rotating chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) this year but rights groups say the former Soviet Central Asian country is unfit to head an organisation promoting democracy.
Timur Kulibayev, married to Nazarbayev's daughter Dinara and sometimes tipped as his possible successor, sued three local newspapers for defamation after they published a letter from an exiled Kazakh banker last week accusing Kulibayev of corruption.
A Kazakh court has since ordered the seizure of the print runs of the three newspapers and banned them from publishing anything that could damage Kulibayev's reputation.
"I personally see this as an act of political pressure on media outlets the state doesn't like," said Igor Vinyavsky, editor of the opposition newspaper Vzglyad.
In a separate statement, Vzglyad and fellow opposition newspaper Respublika said the order amounted to censorship.
"The country that chairs the OSCE has made it taboo to mention the name of the president's son-in-law ... in the independent press," the joint statement said.
"It is now official that censorship has been entrenched in this country."
The two newspapers said they had been singled out because they criticised the government.
"We urge OSCE countries and our Western colleagues to demand that Kazakhstan ... stop curbing free speech and interfering in the work of independent media," the joint statement said.
The third newspaper involved, Kursiv, did not sign the statement but has also criticised the court for seizing its print run.
Public criticism of Nazarbayev, in power for 20 years, and his family is taboo in Kazakhstan. Independent media say they work under pressure from the state and accuse Nazarbayev of trying to silence dissent in the vast oil-rich country.
Kazakhstan says it is committed to implementing democratic reforms but will not mimic Western political systems.
Kulibayev, 43, is deputy chief executive of state welfare fund Samruk-Kazyna which controls state-run companies in sectors including energy, metals and railways.
He has not commented on the case despite repeated efforts to reach him. A Samruk-Kazyna representative contacted on Wednesday declined to comment. (Additional reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Maria Golovnina and Andrew Dobbie)
© Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved. Users may download and print extracts of content from this website for their own personal and non-commercial use only. Republication or redistribution of Thomson Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters and its logo are registered trademarks or trademarks of the Thomson Reuters group of companies around the world.
ALMATY, Feb 3 (Reuters)