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openDemocracy is being sued by an organisation linked to a Kazakh dictator

The case against our investigative journalists has already cost openDemocracy tens of thousands of pounds

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Martin Williams
21 September 2022, 10.08am

openDemocracy is being sued by a company linked to a Kazakhstan dictator

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The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

openDemocracy is being sued over its investigative journalism by an organisation linked to Kazakhstan’s notorious former dictator.

The Nazarbayev Fund has hired a US law firm to pursue reporters after openDemocracy reported on details of a $7.8bn business empire.

The claimants are also suing the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Telegraph for reporting on the same subject.

Their lawsuit has already cost us tens of thousands of pounds, and a GoFundMe page has been launched to help with defence costs.

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Legal experts and campaigners have described the case as the latest example of a so-called “SLAPP” – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

"The threats facing TBIJ and openDemocracy are emblematic of the growing use of SLAPPs to target and silence open reporting,” said Nik Williams of the free speech campaign group Index on Censorship.

“For too long, the UK has been the centre of legal threats brought by the world's wealthy, powerful and opaque to stifle media freedom and the public's right to know.”

The justice secretary, Dominic Raab, pledged in July to “take aim” at the use of SLAPPs in English courts by foreign elites, in the wake of lawsuits over the publication of books that were highly critical of Vladimir Putin and his associates.

openDemocracy’s reporting centred on the relationship between a private limited company in the UK, called Jusan Technologies, and the Nazarbayev Fund – which was founded using state money by the former autocratic leader of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In a pre-action letter, lawyers on behalf of Jusan Technologies Limited claim that the story had caused financial loss to the company in the UK. Both Jusan and the Nazarbayev Fund strongly dispute the premise and contents of the reports.

Legal firm Boies Schiller Flexner is representing the claimants suing us.

Peter Geoghegan, editor-in-chief of openDemocracy, said: “This is a clear attempt to intimidate independent investigative journalism. We are a small not-for-profit media organisation being threatened by rich and powerful organisations for reporting on what we believe is in the public interest.

“It’s another example of a disturbing pattern of the super-wealthy using British courts to deter investigations and suppress stories that they would rather keep hidden.

“They use British courts to silence journalists through so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), by issuing claims that cost a fortune to defend with the result that many defendants are priced out of the game and other reporters will be deterred from fresh investigations. This case has already cost openDemocracy tens of thousands of pounds and we need the public’s help to defend ourselves.

“openDemocracy and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism have taken the unusual step of going public with this because we think it is important for people to understand how legal threats are used in this country and because we are determined to defend ourselves.”

Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president in 2019, after 28 years of autocratic rule, but it is widely believed that he and his inner circle still exercise significant control over the government.

In January, when Nazarbayev was still head of Kazakhstan’s National Security Council, more than 200 people were killed and at least 9,000 arrested after protests against rising fuel costs and the continuing influence of the former dictator. The crackdown on protesters was aided by an estimated 2,500 Russian paratroopers.

Kazakhstan ranks 122nd out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.

Rozina Breen, CEO of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, said: “The bureau has for some time been investigating the connection between London and the billions flowing from the former Soviet Union. Many of those funds have been channelled through convoluted corporate structures – systems that the UK government puts little emphasis on.

“We firmly believe this vital public interest journalism is essential for a functioning and transparent democracy and an absolute necessity in ensuring sound financial governance and accountability.”

You can support our legal defence by donating via our GoFundMe page here.

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