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Kazakh journalist arrested for protest

A KAZAKH journalist is looking for answers after she was arrested and allegedly beaten by police for protesting during her president's visit to Bratislava.

A KAZAKH journalist is looking for answers after she was arrested and allegedly beaten by police for protesting during her president's visit to Bratislava.

Kazakh-born Balli Marzec, now a citizen of Poland, staged her protest in front of the Presidential Palace on November 21, where Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev was meeting with Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič.

When she announced through a loudspeaker that human rights are not respected in Kazakhstan, several officers dragged her to a police car, reports said.

She was driven to the police station and interrogated for 13 hours. First she was charged with an attack on a public official, but the charge was later thrown out.

"I came to Slovakia to step up against the dictator Nazarbaev, so that Slovakia would tell him no," Marzec said, as quoted by the Sme daily. "I said there that I was thankful to Slovakia for democracy, which allowed me to protest like this.

"I did not expect the police to arrest and beat me."

Marzec, 48, told journalists that in the car, police kicked her in the belly and hit her in the face, and she had to be treated in a hospital.

Police denied the accusations.

According to the head of the Bratislava Regional Police, Pavol Brath, Marzec was arrested for ignoring a police officer's request not to speak while the Kazakh national anthem was playing, Sme reported.

Marzec said Slovak policemen arrested her on the indirect orders of the head Kazakh security officer.

"I saw the head of the Kazakh bodyguards putting his finger to his lips, and looking at me. Immediately, Slovak police officers came after me," she said.

The day after the incident, on November 22, Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák visited the Polish embassy in Bratislava and promised that Interior Ministry would investigate the police action.

Marzec had permission from the Bratislava municipal office to demonstrate during the visit. Kaliňák said police were not informed about that.

He said Marzec filed the request for the permission one day before the visit, so the police may not have received the notice on time.

"I am sorry for the whole situation," Kaliňák told the media. "I feel personally sorry for the incident, regardless of whether the police action was legal or not, or whether it was against a Slovak citizen or a foreigner."

Kaliňák said he did not know who gave the order to act against Marzec, but he dismissed the speculation it came from the Kazakh guard.

"The Kazakh security force did not even mention the incident," he said.

Kaliňák invited Marzec to a stay in the High Tatras, where the Slovak authorities would like to update her on the investigation into the case, he said. The opposition parties protested against the arrest of the Kazakh journalist on November 22.

"In a democratic society, freedom of speech is a basic human right," the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) said in a statement. "So the SMK requests the police action to be investigated by the bodies in charge, and that measures be taken against those who acted against the journalist with no reason."

The police methods were also criticised by the Slovak Democratic and Christian Movement (SDKÚ) MP Magda Vášáryová, the former Slovak ambassador to Poland, who met the journalist after her release.

Vášáryová said that when supporters of the extremist Slovenská Pospolitosť organisation rallied on November 17, none of the police intervened.

"When a Kazakh journalist appears, police spring into action, and drag away this helpless, solitary woman, and even try to accuse her of attacking them," she said. "We strongly protest."

The Slovak Syndicate of Journalists (SSN) called the police response to Marzec unjustified and rough. It said Marzec's protest was duly announced and police intervened in her civic right to express her opinion, without any reason.

The Kazakh opposition party has accused the president of usurping power and ruling like an authoritarian. The government of this former Soviet republic was also criticised by Amnesty International, which says human rights are violated in the country.


With press reports

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