Lack of accountability for ‘’Bloody January’’ events & persecution of critics undermine pledged modernisation
This is an update on developments affecting the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Kazakhstan from June to August 2022. It has been prepared by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) as part of their cooperation with the CIVICUS Monitor.
The lack of justice and accountability for the ‘’Bloody January’’ 2022 events remained a key concern due to the failure of the authorities to impartially, thoroughly and effectively investigate allegations of excessive force, torture and ill-treatment, and other violations related to these events. For example, while 70 percent of those surveyed by KIBHR reported torture and ill-treatment in detention during the January events, only 15 law enforcement officials were under investigation for torture as of mid-August 2022. The first court proceedings against police officers facing such charges began in early September 2022.
IPHR and KIBHR joined a group of other human rights NGOs in voicing concerns about the inadequate investigations into the January events to date and in calling for swift steps to ensure independent investigations in collaboration with both national and international experts.
Representatives of the international community, including a delegation of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who visited Kazakhstan in August 2022, also made renewed calls for justice in relation to the January events.
Ahead of the visit of MEPs, the authorities finally delivered on a promise to release an official list of those who were killed during the January events. However, the authorities did not provide any information about the circumstances under which those listed died, and human rights defenders criticised the list as incomplete. The official death toll for the January events now stands at 238 people, including six people who the authorities have acknowledged died in detention due to torture.
Ahead of the visit of MEPs to #Kazakhstan,Prosecutor General's office published the list of people killed during the January events: only surnames & first letters of the names.Full names, dates of birth, circumstances of deaths not provided making it difficult to verify@rozathun pic.twitter.com/OZfgeZGvrA— Daniyar (@DaniyarK1996) August 16, 2022
Hundreds of criminal cases related to the January events had been submitted to court as of August 2022, while other cases were pending trial. These cases include those of at least 30 civil society and opposition activists who have been charged with and, in some cases, already convicted of rioting and other crimes despite the lack of any evidence of their involvement in violent, unlawful actions during the January protests. Two activists were convicted of allegedly spreading false information during the protests under a vaguely worded criminal code provision, which has been frequently used to stifle free speech.
The most high-profile activist case related to the January events is that of opposition Democratic Party leader Zhanbolat Mamai, who remained in pre-trial detention on multiple charges initiated in retaliation for his opposition activities. Human rights defenders have recognised both Mamai and other activists, who have been placed behind bars on charges initiated over the January events, as political prisoners.
At the beginning of September 2022, President Tokayev announced plans to implement an amnesty for those charged with participation in the January events, with the exception of those facing terrorism, treason and other serious charges. It remains unclear how the amnesty would be implemented and whether it would apply to activists.
The President also called for early presidential and parliamentary elections in autumn 2022 and spring 2023, respectively, saying this was needed to ensure the successful implementation of political reforms initiated by him. In particular, a series of constitutional amendments arguably aimed at political modernisation were put to a vote and approved at a referendum in June 2022. Critics of the president’s reform agenda have objected to its limited scope, stressing that more systematic reforms are needed to improve good governance, democratic decision-making and human rights protection in practice.
The President’s pledges to promote political modernisation were also undermined by continued pressure on political opposition groups. Activists seeking state registration for the Alga Kazakhstan! opposition party faced obstruction, and members of the Democratic Party – which has previously been prevented from registering – were subjected to intimidation and harassment. As already mentioned, the leader of the Democratic Party was in custody on politically motivated charges, and another activist also came under criminal investigation.
As emphasised by civil society organisations (CSOs), elections held in Kazakhstan will not be truly fair as long as persecution of opposition groups and government critics continues. CSOs also voiced concerns about draft legislation requiring NGOs who wish to monitor elections to obtain state accreditation. They feared that this requirement might be used to prevent independent groups from observing and documenting violations during elections.
The authorities continued to selectively deny permission for peaceful assemblies on issues that are inconvenient to those in power. They also dispersed and detained participants in peaceful protests organised without pre-approval, such as protests initiated by members of opposition groups and relatives of victims of the January events.
Due to the lack of accountability for the January events and the human rights fallout of these events, Kazakhstan’s civic space rating was downgraded from ‘’obstructed’’ to ‘’repressed’’ on the CIVICUS Monitor in June 2022.This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights.
🇰🇿#Kazakhstan has been downgraded to 'repressed', decline in rights includes:— CIVICUS Monitor (@CIVICUSMonitor) June 20, 2022
🟠200 killed & thousands injured in January protests
🟠Arbitrary detentions of peaceful protesters
🟠Jan events used as pretext to target activists, the opposition & journalistshttps://t.co/EhesFoTg9U pic.twitter.com/j6rm1eU85E
President’s drive to create a ‘’new Kazakhstan’’
In the aftermath of the January events, President Tokayev vowed to roll back the ‘’super presidential’’ rule put in place by his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, promote political modernisation, and create ‘’a new Kazakhstan’’ (for more background information, see our previous update). As part of this drive, a constitutional referendum was organised on 5th June 2022, during which voters were asked whether they supported the adoption of proposed amendments to 33 articles of the constitution. According to official information, the voter turnout was 68 percent (approx. 8 million), and 77 percent (approx. 6,1 million) voted in favour of the proposed amendments. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) was unable to deploy any observation mission due to the short notice at which the referendum was announced. However, civil society observers documented procedural violations and reported facing obstruction by members of election commissions.
Election observers also criticised the fact that voters were given little time to study and discuss the proposed constitutional amendments ahead of the vote. In addition, they could only choose to accept or reject all of the amendments as a package, without any opportunity to take a stand on individual provisions.
The approved amendments include provisions which reduce the president’s powers in some areas, strengthen the role of parliament, introduce a new electoral system for parliament, prohibit the president’s family from holding government posts, and remove references to ex-President Nazarbayev asthe “leader of the nation”. However, as covered before, civil society representatives have expressed concerns that the political reforms initiated by President Tokayev are limited in nature and might not translate into any concrete improvements unless more systematic measures are taken to change current undemocratic practices. For example, while registration requirements for political parties have been simplified, political opposition parties continue to face obstruction (see more under Association).
In a further development, when delivering his annual state of the nation address on 1st September 2022, President Tokayev called for holding early presidential elections in autumn 2022 and early parliamentary elections in the first half of 2023. He stated that a ‘’reset of key state institutions’’ was necessary to ensure the successful implementation of the reforms initiated by him. The next regular elections would have been due in 2024 and 2025, respectively. Tokayev also proposed increasing the presidential term from five to seven years, without the right to be re-elected.The date for the snap presidential elections is yet to be set at the time of writing.
Tokayev was elected president in June 2019, as a hand-picked successor of ex-President Nazarbayev, who stepped down after ruling the country for three decades. Following the January 2022 protests, when protesters expressed resentment about Nazarbayev’s legacy and continued political influence, Tokayev has sought to distance himself from his predecessor.
Kazakhstan's president has announced surprise early elections in the fall. He is selling that vote, and one to pick a new parliament to be held next year, as chances to reset the political system https://t.co/3MPEtaeXvI— Eurasianet (@eurasianet) September 2, 2022
Response to ‘’Bloody January” events
In January 2022, mass protests for social and political change turned bloody as the authorities used excessive force and some people in the crowd resorted to violence, resulting in over 200 people being killed and thousands injured.
After failing to publish the names of those killed during the January events, the authorities an official list of the victims in mid-August 2022. However, the list did not feature the full names of the 238 people (it included only their last names and initials) and did not provide any information about the circumstances of their deaths, thus leaving it unclear how they were killed. The authorities argued that this information was not subject to disclosure based on relevant legislation and the views of relatives, but criticised the list as incomplete. The official list also did not feature all of the names included on independent lists of victims compiled by the human rights alliance #qantar2022 and Radio Azattyk (the Kazakh service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty). For example, Radio Azattyk’s list features the names of several more children than the official one.
To date Kazakhstani authorities have failed to impartially, thoroughly and effectively investigate the January events, including allegations of the excessive use of force against protest participants and passers-by, arbitrary detentions, due process violations and the torture and ill-treatment of detainees. In a joint statement issued in July 2022, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom Now, the World Organisation against Torture, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, IPHR, KIBHR, the NGO Coalition against Torture, Ar.Rukh.Khak and Liberty warned that, after months of ‘’limited and mostly nominal investigations’’, there is ‘’mounting concern that there will be no accountability’’ for the victims of human rights violations and their families. The NGOs therefore called on the authorities to take swift steps to ensure fully independent investigations into the January events and all alleged violations in collaboration with national and international experts.
10 civil society groups call on #Kazakhstan to establish a fully independent investigation into the January 2022 events Kazakhstan: Joint Statement on January 2022 events https://t.co/vvM72kGprp— Svetlana Vorobyeva (@Vorobyeva_sv) July 29, 2022
Representatives of the international community also made renewed calls for justice in relation to the January events. For example, a delegation of Members of the European Parliament, who visited Kazakhstan in August 2022 and met with both state officials and civil society representatives, stressed the need for ‘’a transparent, comprehensive and fair investigation’’ into these events. They also called for ‘’an immediate halt to the harassment and intimidation of political and civil society activistsand the release of all political prisoners’’, mentioning in particular the case of Zhanbolat Mamai, who is facing charges related to the January events (see more on his case under Expression).
In remarks made on the day of the constitutional referendum on 5th June 2022, President Tokayev again described the January events as a ‘’terrorist attack’’ and stated that many of those killed represented ‘’the terrorist side’’. At the same time, he said that that some of the victims had nothing to do with the alleged terrorist plot and promised that security officials involved in ‘’unjustified actions against the civilian population’’ would be held accountable. However, the authorities have not provided any information about ongoing investigations into allegations of the excessive use of lethal force by security officials and no official is known to have been detained in this context. As covered before, peaceful protesters, activists and passers-by are among those reported to have been killed during the January protests and unrest.
According to official information, around 10, 000 people were detained in connection with the January protests and unrest. There are widespread allegations of violations of the rights of those detained. For example, in an August 2022 report based on surveys among detainees, their lawyers and relatives, KIBHR documented systematic violations of the rights of detainees, such as the failure to inform them about the grounds for their detention and their rights, denial of prompt access to a lawyer, and abusive treatment. Over 70 percent of those surveyed reported torture and ill-treatement . The Kazakhstani NGO Coalition against Torture, of which KIBHR is a member, has received over 170 complaints of torture and ill-treatment from across the country relating to the January events. However, this figure is believed to constitute only a small fraction of all cases since many victims are reluctant to report their experiences – even to NGOs -- due to the fear of reprisals and the lack of confidence in obtaining justice.
The authorities have acknowledged the use of ‘’illegal methods of interrogation’’ against people detained during the January events, and the official tally of the victims of these events include six people who died in detention due to the use of prohibited methods. The authorities have also stated their commitment to investigating all reported abuses. However, many of the criminal cases opened into torture allegations have reportedly been closed and as of mid-August 2022, only 15 law enforcement officials were under investigation on torture allegations, according to a representative of the Prosecutor-General's Office. In the same month the first torture case related to the January events was handed over to a court in the city of Taldykorgan, where five police officers have been charged with torturing 23 detainees, including through the use of a hot iron. Hearings began at the beginning of September 2022.
📣🇰🇿 Ahead of UN #IDSVT2022, 100s of January event torture victims during have not received justice.— IPHR (@IPHR) June 24, 2022
IPHR+Coalition against Torture in #Kazakhstan call on 🇰🇿 authorities to:
👩⚖️Bring perpetrators to justice
According to information from the General Prosecutor’s Office, more than 5,000 criminal cases were initiated against people detained during the January events, with charges ranging from theft and intentional property damage to mass riots, attempted seizure of power and acts of terrorism. As of early August 2022, close to 500 criminal cases related to the January events had been submitted to court, with over 900 people having been convicted and over 90 of them sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. As covered before, there are serious concerns that those charged with criminal offences include people who are not believed to have been involved in any violent actions but who were apprehended when protesting peacefully, including known civil society activists (see more on cases against activists under Expression).
In his annual state of the nation address, delivered on 1st September 2022, President Tokayev announced an amnesty for people charged in relation to the January events, stating that the sentences of people convicted of less serious crimes related to the unrest had already been mitigated. He added that the amnesty would not apply to those facing charges of state treason, attempted violent change of power, or terrorism, nor to those who used torture. Civil society representatives welcomed the proposed amnesty as such. However, they were concerned that it might only benefit those who plead guilty and ‘’repent’’ and thus will not extend to defendants, such as civil society activists who refuse to ‘’confess’’ to charges initiated against them because of their peaceful protests and engagement, or to those who withdraw confessions made under torture.
Continued violations against protesters
During the reporting period, violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly continued. In accordance with the law on assemblies adopted in 2020, organisers of assemblies are de-facto required to obtain advance permission from authorities, although the law formally provides for a notification procedure. Authorities have recently allowed a growing number of peaceful assemblies to take place. However, they continue to selectively deny permission for peaceful protests where participants plan to make political demands or criticise those in power, claiming that other events have already been agreed on for the same dates and the same place, or even without providing any reasons. Peaceful protests which have not been sanctioned by authorities are regularly dispersed and participants detained.
These are a few examples of cases in which authorities obstructed peaceful protests:
- On 6th July 2022, around 20 activists from the unregistered Democratic Party gathered in central Almaty to draw attention to violations committed during ex-President Nazarbayev’s rule on the occasion of his birthday. The activists also demanded the release of political prisoners, including Democratic Party leader Zhanbolat Mamai (see more on his case under Expression). Police dispersed the protesters and forcibly detained them, resulting in several of them being bruised and slightly injured. Three of the activists were subsequently sentenced to 15 days’ administrative detention, while ten others were fined. Police have repeatedly dispersed peaceful protests initiated by activists from the Democratic Party, and detained and penalised participants (for additional examples, see our previous update).
- On 14th July 2022, police detained more than a dozen people who had gathered outside the presidential residence in the capital Nur-Sultan to demand justice for their relatives who died during the January 2022 events. The protesters had travelled from different regions in Kazakhstan to the capital and spent three days outside the presidential residence, demanding a meeting with the president. On 13th July 2022, a representative of the presidential administration proposed to meet the protesters individually. However, the protesters did not agree, insisting on a common meeting, saying they wanted to discuss similar issues concerning the lack of just and transparent investigations into the death of their loved ones and what they consider to be unfair accusations levelled against their relatives over the January events. After being detained, the protesters were reportedly taken to a local police station and thereafter convinced to leave the capital and go home by representatives of local authorities, who promised to look into the issues raised by the protesters.
- In August 2022, activists from the initiative group for the registration of the Alga Kazakhstan! opposition party (see more about this group under Association) repeatedly received rejections when submitting notifications to hold peaceful protests in Nur-Sultan and Almaty. The initiative group announced plans nevertheless to hold peaceful rallies in the two cities on 28th August 2022 to demand an international investigation into the January 2022 events and the registration of all political parties. In response, authorities took measures to prevent the rallies from taking place, in particular through the deployment of police units at the planned protest venues and ‘’preventive’’ detentions of participants. Police detained at least three activists on their way to the protest in Nur-Sultan, and six activists in Almaty. Those detained were reportedly held for a few hours before being released. Some of the detentions were reportedly carried out with the use of force.
Activists charged over January 2022 events
As covered before, dozens of civil society and opposition activists were detained during the January 2022 events, and some of them subsequently faced criminal charges in apparent retaliation for their civic, human rights and pro-democratic engagement. Activists were charged with participating in riots (under article 272 of the Criminal Code) and other criminal offences despite the lack of any evidence of their involvement in violent, unlawful actions during the January protests. In several cases, activists have also been charged with ‘’knowingly spreading false information’’ under a vaguely worded provision of the Criminal Code (article 274) which has increasingly been used to stifle legitimate free speech.
According to information obtained by KIBHR and its partners in the Human Rights Defence Alliance, which was created to monitor and analyse human rights violations during the January events, more than 30 criminal cases related to these events have been initiated against civil society activists on unsubstantiated grounds. Other human rights groups have alleged that over 200 criminal cases have been opened on politically motivated grounds against activists and others since the January events (including cases directly related to these events and other cases).
While some activists have already been convicted on charges brought against them over the January events, the cases of others were still pending trial at the beginning of September 2022. A number of activists who are currently behind bars on charges related to the January events have been recognised as political prisoners by an expert group of Kazakhstani human rights defenders and included on a regularly updated list of such individuals.
The most high-profile case of an activist charged over the January protests is that of Zhanbolat Mamai, the leader of the unregistered opposition Democratic Party:
- In June 2022, Mamai was charged with organising riots and spreading false information in an emergency situation (under articles 272.1 and 274.4 of the Criminal Code) during the January events. The charges concerned a peaceful protest held by his party in Almaty on 4th January 2022 to express solidarity with protesters in Kazakhstan’s Mangystau region, where the January protests began, and to call for political and social change. He was accused of ‘’influencing the mood’’ of the crowd, ‘’aiming to create social tension’’ and ‘’turning people against the authorities’’ by speaking about the need for reforms at the protest. He was also accused of spreading false information by telling protesters that ‘’10,000’’ people had gathered in Zhanaozen – a figure that might not have been exact.
- The new charges came on top of earlier charges initiated against Mamai. He had already previously been charged with spreading false information (article 274 of the Criminal Code) in relation to his campaigning for measures to help people burdened by financial debt and with insulting law enforcement officers (article 378 of the Criminal Code) because of critical remarks made during the police dispersal of a peaceful protest held by his party. He has been held in pre-trial detention since March 2022. In late August 2022, his detention was prolonged until 12th October 2022. Earlier in August, reports emerged indicating that people held in the same detention facility as Mamai had allegedly been pressured to provide testimonies against him, being offered release if they did, and threatened with lengthy prison sentences if they refused. Mamai’s supporters demanded an investigation into these allegations. In early September 2022, the opposition leader issued a statement, saying that he had been warned that a physical assault was being prepared against him in detention, and that he believed the security services to be behind this threat. Human rights groups have denounced the case against Mamai as politically motivated retaliation for his opposition activities and his criticism of those in power. In a joint statement issued in June 2022, IPHR, KIBHR and partners called on the Kazakhstani authorities to stop persecuting the opposition leader, drop the charges against him and release him. The delegation of Members of the European Parliaments, who visited Kazakhstan in August 2022, also called for the release of Mamai and other political prisoners in Kazakhstan.
There’s nothing criminal about peacefully voicing opposition to the authorities and campaigning for change – #Kazakhstan’s authorities should clear opposition leader Zhanbolat Mamai of trumped-up charges and release him! w/ @bureau_kz, @hfhrpl & @nhc_no: https://t.co/7LVaX7NARu pic.twitter.com/RB6Uu3Hmea— IPHR (@IPHR) June 13, 2022
In Shymkent, Kazakhstan’s third largest city, several activists have been charged and convicted over the January events, including in the following cases:
- On 15th July 2022, a local court in Shymkent convicted activists Lyazzat Dosmambetova, Zhanmurat Ashtaev and Kairat Sultanbek on charges of participating in riots during the January 2022 events following a trial lasting only two days. The court handed down guilty verdicts, although the prosecution failed to provide any compelling evidence to support the charges against the activists, and the defendants insisted that they only protested peacefully. The court sentenced Dosmambetova to three years and six months in prison, while her co-defendants were given slightly shorter prison sentences of three years and five months (Sultanbek) and three years and one month (Ashtaev). On 8th September 2022, an appeals court upheld the sentences against the three activists, with the only exception being that Dosmambetova’s serving of her sentence was postponed for two years on the grounds that she has a 12-year old son. Thus, she was temporarily released. The three activists have also previously been penalised in relation to their civic and opposition activities, including by being given different terms of restricted freedom (a non-custodial sentence) on charges of involvement in a banned organisation in 2021.
1/3— Aigul_Nurpeis 🇰🇿🇺🇦 (@Aigul_Nurpeis) September 10, 2022
WE DO NOT BELIEVE TOKAEV! NO NEW #KAZAKHSTAN! FREEDOM!
Such words are spoken by the relatives of political prisoners and civil activists who came to the appeal court of political prisoners Lyazzat #Dosmambetova, Zhanmurat #Ashtaev, Kairat #Sultanbek.@Europarl_EN @hrw pic.twitter.com/f07TyXBt37
- On 6th June 2022, a local court convicted Shymkent-based activist Moldabay Sadibekov ofparticipating in and calling for riots and sentenced him to three years in prison. The conviction was based on video material, filmed by the activist, which showed him leading a group of protesters shouting slogans such as calls for an end to the political influence of ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the expression of support for people in Zhanaozen, where the January 2022 protests began. During the trial, Sadibekov denied engaging in any violent actions, and said that he only peacefully protested. On 10th August 2022, an appeals court replaced Sadibekov’s prison sentence with a suspended one. At the appeals hearing, Sadibekov’s lawyer stated that the activist ‘’admits’’ the charges brought against him and ‘’repents", in an apparent move aimed at avoiding imprisonment.
In the following cases, activists were convicted of allegedly spreading ‘’false’’ information about the January events:
- On 12th August 2022, a local court sentenced Stepnogorsk-based activist Aya Sadvakasova tothree years of restricted freedom on charges of spreading false information and involvement in a banned organisation (under articles 274 and 405 of the Criminal Code). The first charge was initiated against the activist because of an audio message posted on social media in which she accused authorities of “lawlessness” when dispersing peaceful protests during the January events. The second charge was added to her case following a search of her home, when police allegedly found computer material with ‘’signs’’ of her involvement in the banned opposition movements Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and the Street Party (see more about the campaign against these movements under Association).
- Sadvakasova was held under house arrest from mid-January 2022 until 5th August 2022, when she was transferred to pre-trial detention. Following the announcement of the verdict in her case, she was released, but will be subjected to court-imposed restrictions on her movement and activities for the next three years. Sadvakasova, who has engaged in efforts to document and attract international attention to human rights violations taking place in Kazakhstan, has also previously faced intimidation because of her civic engagement.
On 24th June 2022, a local court in the city of Kostanay found activist Dias Nurmagambetov guilty of spreading false information during the January events and sentenced him to one year of restricted freedom, with court-imposed restrictions on his movement and activities. He was accused of posting messages on the Telegram channel ‘’Protest Kostanay’’ calling on people to participate in unsanctioned protests and incorrectly suggesting that police were taking the side of protestors.
Nurmagambetov appealed the sentence, denying that he had disseminated any false information and saying that he had first confessed to the charges because he was subjected to torture in detention. On 4th August 2022, Kostanay Regional Court considered his appeal and upheld his sentence. However, although concluding that there was enough evidence of the activist’s guilt, the judge at this court criticised law enforcement authorities for failing to properly investigate his torture allegations, due to which he withdrew his initial confession. Nurmagambetov announced plans to further appeal the verdict.
For a description of additional criminal cases initiated against activists in relation to the January events, see our special update on these events, as well as our previous updates on developments in February-March 2022 and in March-May 2022.
Ongoing persecution of government critics
During the reporting period, persecution of government critics also continued outside the context of the January events. Journalists, bloggers, civil society activists, opposition supporters and others critical of the authorities were subjected to intimidation and harassment ranging from threats and surveillance to detention and politically motivated charges (for an overview of the types of violations reported, see monthly overviews of violations of freedom of expression published by the Adil Soz NGO).
The continued use of charges against critics of spreading false information is of particular concern. As mentioned above, this provision of the Criminal Code (article 274) is so broadly worded that it can be used to restrict legitimate free speech. This is one recent example of a case where charges have been brought under this provision:
- On 5th August 2022, Abzal Dostiyarov, an Almaty-based activist from the unregistered Democratic Party, learned that a criminal case for spreading false information had been opened against him. According to Dostiyarov, an investigator called him, saying that the case had been opened based on an expert assessment of 11 videos posted by the activist on social media and summoned him for interrogation. It was not clear what information exactly was considered ‘’false’’ in the videos. The activist was given the status of a ‘’witness’’ in the case, but feared that his status might be requalified and that he might be arrested as a suspect. Previously Dostiyarov has repeatedly been fined and detained because of his participation in peaceful protests.
Активист незарегистрированной Демпартии Казахстана Абзал Достияров сообщил о деле против него по уголовной статье «Распространение заведомо ложной информации». По его словам, 5 августа об этом ему сообщил звонивший из столицы следователь.https://t.co/dStNEZ9Sx7— Радио Азаттык - Казахстан (@Radio_Azattyk) August 6, 2022
There were also reports of physical attacks on bloggers during the reporting period:
On 19th July 2022, an unknown man attacked Olesya Vertinskaya, a correspondent for the Dorozhniy Kontrol (“Road control’’) online portal, which was set up to protect the rights of drivers and document unlawful actions of police. The assailant approached Vertinskaya outside her home in the city of Atyray, punching her in the face and kicking her before he fled when a passer-by approached. As a result of the attack, Vertinskaya’s nose was broken. A few days before the attack, she had received a threatening message from an unknown phone number, warning her to be ‘’careful’’ in relation to a local company, which had been accused of unlawful actions in reports published by Dorozhniy Kontrol. Following the attack, she received a further threatening message from the same number saying that the company’s owner “will not leave it at that.” The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the authorities to fully and transparently investigate the attack on Vertinskaya and to hold all the perpetrators to account, including anyone who may have ordered the attack. On 22nd July 2022, police detained a suspect, who came under investigation on charges of inflicting bodily harm.
In a separate development, on 3rd August 2022, several unknown perpetrators allegedly attacked and beat Anton Knyazev, another correspondent for the Dorozhniy Kontrol portal,at a store in the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk. According to the portal, the assailants hit Knyazev in the face and also damaged his car, in which he had arrived at the store. The portal said that the attack came the day after Knyazev had prepared video reports at a local police station, noting that it remained to be clarified whether the attack was linked to these reports or Knyazev’s work for the portal. Police reportedly opened an investigation on ‘’hooliganism’’ and identified two suspects.
Kazakh authorities must fully and transparently investigate the recent attack on journalist Olesya Vertinskaya and ensure her safety.https://t.co/JsftBb9K2f— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) July 23, 2022
Concerns about draft legislation on NGO monitoring of legislation
In July 2022, the Ministry of Justice put forward for public discussion new draft legislation on election monitoring. According to the proposed amendments to the Law on Elections, NGOs wishing to monitor elections would be required to obtain accreditation in a procedure to be determined by the Central Election Commission (CEC). Only NGOs whose statutes spell out that election monitoring is among their statutory activities would be eligible for accreditation, and representatives of NGOs receiving foreign funding would not be allowed to take part in election monitoring.
The proposed amendments were seriously criticised by NGOs engaged in election monitoring, who called them ‘’discriminatory’’ and said that they threatened independent election monitoring. Due to the criticism, the provision on foreign-funded NGOs was deleted from the version of the draft legislation that was submitted to parliament for consideration in August 2022. However, NGO representatives remained concerned that the accreditation requirement for NGOs might be used to deny independent organisations the right to monitor elections on arbitrary grounds. Current legislation does not require NGOs to be accredited to monitor elections.
Pressure against opposition groups
As part of his initiative to promote political modernisation and create ‘’a new Kazakhstan’’ in the aftermath of the January 2022 events, President Tokayev pledged to make it easier for political parties to obtain compulsory state registration. However, in practice, political opposition parties wishing to register continue to face obstruction, as illustrated by this example:
- An initiative group established in spring 2022 for the registration of the opposition party Alga Kazakhstan! (“Forward Kazakhstan!”) has experienced difficulties. The Ministry of Justice returned documents submitted by the group in order to start the registration procedure, saying that the list of members that it presented did not meet requirements set out by law. In response, the initiative group filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Justice. However, during a hearing on 21st June 2022, a local court dismissed the lawsuit based on the assertions of Ministry officials that the list of members of the party’s initiative group contained names of people who have died or who are under age, although the officials failed to provide concrete information to back up these claims.
- While appealing against the court decision, members of the initiative group continued efforts to collect signatures for the registration of the party. As they did, they were repeatedly subjected to harassment by law enforcement authorities. In several cases in July-August 2022, activists from the unregistered party were detained in the capital Nur-Sultan and other cities as they were handing out leaflets in the street to inform people about the party and to call for support for its registration. Several of those detained were subsequently fined under article 489 of the Code on Administrative Offences, which penalises participation in the activities of unregistered public associations.
Members of the unregistered Democratic Party also remained under pressure. As covered above (see Expression), party leader Zhanbolat Mamai is facing multiple criminal charges believed to be politically motivated, while a criminal case on spreading false information was opened against party activist Abzal Dostiyarov. Mamai’s wife and co-activist, Inga Imanbai has reported being pressured to testify against her husband and being deprived of the right to act as his defender in the criminal case against him. She has also been subjected to other intimidation and harassment. In June 2022, she discovered that spyware – of a kind believed to be used by the Kazakhstani authorities – had been installed on her phone. Peaceful protests organised by Democratic Party activists have repeatedly been dispersed and participants detained (for a recent example, see Peaceful Assembly).
Important, inspiring story about activist Inga Imanbay's relentless struggle for justice & for freedom for her imprisoned husband Zhanbolat Mamay in #Kazakhstan, via @Radio_Azattyk: https://t.co/S8cRNgQkOt #freemamay— IPHR (@IPHR) August 22, 2022
As covered before, in recent years, the authorities have carried out a systematic crackdown on supporters of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (known under its Russian abbreviation DVK) and the Street Party (Koshe Partiyasy) – two opposition movements which have been banned as ‘’extremist’’ by court, although they do not endorse or advocate violence. This crackdown continued after the January 2022 events. As a result, the level of activity of the two opposition movements and their supporters has significantly decreased in recent months.
Civic Space Developments