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“Nothing new under the Kazakh sun”: president signs new law designed to stymie the freedom to protest


Geneva-Paris, May 28, 2020 – A new law on public assemblies signed bythe president of Kazakhstan on Monday falls short of several key internationalhuman rights standards. The bill was adopted while the country was under arigorous quarantine due to Covid-19, severely limiting the possibility forsociety to express its concerns about the law in a meaningful way. A prominenthuman rights defender and critic of the law was subjected to awell-orchestrated smear campaign on government-friendly social media.[1] TheObservatory (OMCT- FIDH) calls upon the authorities in Kazakhstan to heed thecall of UN and other experts and amend its legislation to comply withinternational law.

On May 25, 2020, president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed law no. 333-VI “On the Procedure for the Organizationand Holding of Peaceful Assemblies in the Republic of Kazakhstan.” The law willenter into force 10 days after its official publication.

In the aftermath of unprecedented street protests against the unfairelectoral process in June 2019, Tokayev promised to adopt a new law on publicassemblies. In February 2020 the Ministry of information and social developmenttransmitted a draft to the parliament. The Kazakhstan international bureau forhuman rights and rule of law, a member organisation of FIDH, and numerousinternational NGOs criticized the draft for severely curtailing the right tofreedom of assembly enshrined in article 21 of the International Covenant onCivil and Political Rights, ratified by Kazakhstan on April 24, 2006. The UNSpecial Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association statedthat the draft contradicted international standards and that the authoritieshad failed to implement his recommendations made after a visit to Kazakhstan in2015.[2]

Reacting to the sustained wave of criticism, parliament made a number ofcosmetic changes to the draft but the text signed into law by president Tokayevon May 25, still contains several provisions that clearly violate internationalhuman rights standards. For example, only citizens of Kazakhstan can organiseor participate in public assemblies. Although the law states that the organiser“notifies” the authorities – at least five working days in advance – of theproposal to hold a public assembly (assembly, rally and picketing), the law containsa de facto pre-approval procedure for holding a public assembly. Theauthorities enjoy wide-ranging discretionary powers to prohibit the proposedassembly and the law bans public assemblies that have not been notified inaccordance with the procedure and even includes an explicit prohibition on spontaneousactions. Finally, the law stipulates that public assemblies are onlypermissible in a very limited number of specially designated places, exceptone-person pickets which should also be notified. These restrictions onpeaceful gatherings are not necessary in order to pursue any legitimate Stateinterest and are therefore contrary to international law.

We see the authorities increasingly using restrictions on rights andfreedoms imposed to tackle Covid-19 to arrest activists and peaceful protesters.This shows that robust protection of the right to assembly is more importantthan ever in Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, I am afraid the law signed by presidentTokayev sounds the death knell of civil liberties, stated Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

I deplore that the authorities mostly disregarded the arguments ofeminent experts on the right to freedom of assembly, including the UN SpecialRapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association, said Yevgeniy Zhovtis, Director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for HumanRights and Rule of Law” (KIBHR).

Press contact:

· OMCT: Ms. Iolanda Jaquemet +41 79 539 41 06 / Email : (Geneva)

· FIDH: Ms. Eva Canan(English, French), +33 6 48 05 91 57 / Email: (Paris)

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (theObservatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation AgainstTorture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedysituations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are bothmembers of , the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented byinternational civil society.

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