A U.S. media watchdog has condemned an attack on a Kazakh reporter who covered a rare strike over pay at a state oil company this month.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said late on Tuesday that Igor Larra, a reporter with the Svoboda Slova (Freedom of Speech) weekly, was beaten up by unidentified assailants in the western Kazakh town of Aktobe this month.
The weekly is close to the opposition movement in Kazakhstan and highly critical of the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who tolerates little dissent.
Human rights issues in the Central Asian state are under tough scrutiny this year because of Kazakhstan's role as the rotating chair of Europe's main democracy and security group.
"We condemn the brutal attack on our colleague and call on law enforcement officials in Aktobe to quickly apprehend and prosecute all responsible," CPJ said in a statement.
Larra, who is based in Aktobe, was covering a strike by thousands of oil workers in a nearby town, a rare expression of discontent in a former Soviet country where public criticism of state policies is often hushed.
Citing local press freedom groups, CPJ said three men attacked Larra outside his home and left with him with a broken nose, facial bruises and a concussion.
Kazakh officials could not be reached for comment.
CPJ said that regional authorities "harassed and detained" a number of other reporters covering the three-week strike.
Rights groups cried foul when Kazakhstan, which has never held a vote judged free and fair, assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in January.
President Nazarbayev, in power for 20 years, quashes criticism of his rule and independent media say they work under constant pressure from the state.
Kazakhstan, a major oil producer on the Caspian Sea, says it is committed to implementing democratic reforms but will not mimic Western political systems. (Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Noah Barkin)