EU urged to insist onconcrete measures to address pressing human rights issues in Kazakhstan
Brussels/Almaty, 23 November 2016. Today the EU will hold theeighth round of its annual Human Rights Dialogue with Kazakhstan in Brussels.This meeting comes at a time when the EU has begun establishing closer politicaland economic relations with the Central Asian country under an EnhancedPartnership and Cooperation Agreement. Brussels-based International Partnershipfor Human Rights (IPHR), the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) and the Polish HelsinkiFoundation for Human Rights (HFHR) together with Kazakhstan InternationalBureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) have urged the EU to use thisdialogue to insist on concrete measures by Kazakhstan’s government to deal withpressing human rights concerns.
Ahead of today’s meeting, the four NGOs havebriefed the EU on key issues and cases of concern in Kazakhstan, which it wouldbe important to raise with the Kazakhstani authorities.
“As part of a wider trend seen in the former Soviet Union, the climatefor free speech is currently alarming in Kazakhstan,” said Brigitte Dufour, IPHR Director. “The European Parliament decried thesituation in a resolution adopted in March 2016, and this issue should beaddressed as a priority in the EU’s relations with Kazakhstan,” shecontinued.
There are only few media outlets left inKazakhstan that are openly critical of the government, and several of them haverecently faced debilitating defamation lawsuits. News and other sites thatreport unfavourably on government policies are blocked. Recently a growing number of criminal cases have also been initiatedagainst journalists, bloggers and civil society activists.
Among these cases is that of civil society activists Maks Bokayev andTalgat Ayan, who are currently on trial over their role in peaceful land reformprotests that took place in Kazakhstan this spring. At a trial that has beendeemed “political” in nature even by the judge, prosecutors are now seekingeight-year prison terms for the two activists on charges of “violating theprocedure for holding protests”, as well as “disseminating information known tobe false” and “inciting social discord”. Charges brought under the latter twobroadly worded criminal code provisions, which have been criticized byinternational human rights bodies, are often used against outspoken individuals.Editor Guzyal Baydalinova, civil society activists Ermek Narymbaev and BolatbekBlyalov and political activist Serikzhan Mambetalin have all been convicted onsuch charges this year.
“The EU should call on the Kazakhstani authorities to stop using criminalprosecution as a tool for suppressing the legitimate exercise of freedom ofexpression, freedom of association and assembly and other fundamental rights inviolation of international standards,” said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.
Widespread violationsof the right to freedom of assembly were documented in connection with thepeaceful protests on land reforms and broader issues held in Kazakhstan inApril-May 2016. Hundreds of people were detained and dozens, includingwell-known civil society activists, human rights defenders and social mediausers were fined or locked up for up to 15 days. In addition to Maks Bokayevand Talgat Ayan, also other activists have been charged with criminal offensesin relation to these protests. Human rights defender Makhambet Abzhan, who wasactive on social media about the protests, has been convicted of allegedlyresisting police and sentenced to two years’ of court-imposed restrictions onhis freedom of movement.
New legislationadopted in Kazakhstan last year imposes excessive and unjustified reportingrequirements on NGOs. Recent Tax Code amendments require organizations and individualsreceiving foreign funds for certain types of public activities to notify taxauthorities about the receipt of funds and provides for the creation of apublic database featuring such information, which may result in stigmatizationand discrimination of those concerned. Several NGOs have been targeted byintrusive tax inspections.
A total of 115 new cases of torture and ill-treatment registered by the NGOCoalition against Torture in Kazakhstan in the first nine months of 2016 arebelieved to be only the tip of the iceberg. Investigations into allegations oftorture and ill-treatment remain ineffective,in spite of positive legislative changes on reporting and investigating crimes,and impunity is still the norm. At the heart of the problem lies theauthorities’ reluctance to expose the law enforcement system to publiccriticism.
“In order to effectively address the problem of impunity, it is crucialth