Kazakh Journo Disappears After Reporting on Crime and Corruption

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A Kazakh journalist has been missing for nearly three weeks, a media advocacy said Thursday, linking the disappearance with her work on an investigative report on crime and corruption.

Oralgaisha Omarshanova, a reporter for the Law and Justice newspaper, was last seen getting into an unknown car in the commercial capital Almaty on Mar. 30 and has not been heard from ever since, the Just Word group said.

Omarshanova, 39, disappeared four days after the paper had begun publishing her series of stories looking into the alleged criminal links of an ethnic Chechen family that was involved in a clash last month with ethnic Kazakhs that left five people dead.

Omarshanova’s story also named several officials and businesses that were allegedly linked to the Chechen family.

Almaty police said Thursday they were investigating the disappearance, which the advocacy group said was the first case of a journalist’s disappearance in this ex-Soviet republic.

The Mar. 17 mass brawl in a southern village stirred public opinion in the Central Asian nation, which had not experienced tensions between Chechens and Kazakhs before.

Authorities said a Chechen man shot and injured a Kazakh man after an argument during a billiards game in the village of Kazatkom on Mar. 16. The next day, the injured man and dozens of relatives and friends went to his opponent’s house in a neighboring village and a brawl erupted, in which five people, including two Chechens, were killed. About 50 people have been arrested over the incident, police said.

Chechens were deported to Central Asia en masse from their homeland in Russia’s North Caucasus by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin during World War II, but many later returned. About 30,000 Chechens currently live in Kazakhstan.

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