Borat seen as human rights victim by U.S. gov't

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ALMATY - Fictional Kazakh TV reporter Borat has made an unexpected cameo appearance as a victim of censorship in a heavyweight annual human rights report issued by the State Department.

The 2006 report, released in Washington on Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, criticized the real Kazakhstan, a vast oil-producing Central Asian state, for increased restrictions on freedom of speech and other abuses.

The State Department, which says Kazakhstan has no independent judiciary, also listed the murder last year of Kazakh opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, his bodyguard and driver as "unlawful deprivation of life."

The report cited Borat's loss of his Kazakh webpage www.borat.kz in late 2005 alongside court cases and limits on free speech faced by the few domestic media critical of Kazakhstan's long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

"The government deemed as offensive the content of a satirical site controlled by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and revoked the .kz domain," the report said.

Baron Cohen, who subsequently moved the site to www.borat.tv, has been something of a thorn in the side of Kazakhstan's government, which initially reacted angrily to his portrayal of the country as home to misogynists and racists.

Shortly before the Web site closure, a Kazakh Foreign Ministry official threatened "legal measures" against him. Cohen, who is Jewish, responded in character as Borat saying:

"I ... fully support my government's position to sue this Jew."

There was no lawsuit and officials adopted a more measured stance on Borat, whose movie grossed $248 million last year, with Nazarbayev later saying that he got the joke during a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In its remarks on Sarsenbaiuly's death, the State Department criticized a Kazakh court for failing "to follow up and investigate signs that other parties and high-level government officials may have been involved in instigating the killings."

The report also listed military hazing, torture by police, unhealthy prison conditions, arbitrary arrests, restrictions on freedom of assembly, domestic violence against women, people trafficking and "severe limits on citizens' rights to change their government" as areas of concern.
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