Pre-emptive arrests curtail peaceful assembly in Kazakhstan

Peaceful Assembly

Demonstrations took place across Kazakhstan in late April and May against proposed changes to the Land Code that would allow unused, state-owned agricultural land to be privatised, sold off or leased. Although the proposals were shelved in a presidential moratorium in May, the public outcry continued. Anti-government protests inspired by the bill on 21 st May were refused permission by the authorities. In the preceding days, organisers took to social media to coordinate support but were disrupted by a spate of pre-emptive arrests. In the days leading up to 21st May, at least 34 activists were arrested and sentenced to administrative detention (for up to 15 days), as the authorities attempted to suppress information about the planned protests. Most of those arrested had done nothing more than use social media to state their intention to participate in the planned protests, or to provide information about the demonstrations. Despite the pre-emptive arrests, Kazak citizens attempted to assemble in towns and cities; police broke up protests and cordoned off town squares in many places to halt further mobilisation. Many citizens also reported a social media blackout during the protest to dampen coverage. On 27th May, a press release posted on the official website of the Office of the Prosecutor General described protests as a “chain of events” by means of which “certain individuals” intended to “destabilise the social-political situation, inciting inter-ethnic discord and seizing of power”. Three of the organisers, Maks Bokaev, Talgat Ayan and Zhanat Esentaev, were among activists arrested in the days leading up to 21st May; all three face lengthy jail terms on allegedly fabricated charges.


The rights of more than 55 journalists were violated while covering on the events of 21st May, mainly by arbitrary or pre-emptive detention at the hands of the authorities. On 23rd May, a journalist working for the internet portal Guzyal Baydalinova was sentenced to 1.5 years’ imprisonment for “spreading false information” about Kazcommertsbank. 

The authorities continue attempts to use libel and defamation laws to stifle the work of outspoken journalists. In June the editor of the newspaper "Zhemkorlyk - Korlyk" ("Corruption is an offense") Aset Assandy was found guilty of libel. This is the latest prosecution in a consistent clampdown on outspoken journalists by the government. Earlier this year, two other prominent journalists were placed under house arrest for alleged embezzlement, while another, Seitkazy Matayev, the head of the Union of Journalists, had the conditions of his house arrest tightened after a court ruling in June. The newly created Ministry of Information and Communications will monitor the internet and media, including social networks to quickly identify and respond to critical problems. Many users of social networks, rights groups and journalists are afraid that by controlling and monitoring private accounts on social networks, the state will increase surveillance on "dissidents". On 10th June the Ministry of Justice approved the rules of accreditation for offices of foreign mass media in Kazakhstan. The proposed rules contain a list of documents required for accreditation of foreign mass media and foreign journalists, stipulating stringent rules for their operation in Kazakhstan.


Following his visit to Kazakhstan in January 2016,  UN Special Rapporteur Kiai expressed serious concern about restrictions on public associations, political parties, religious groups and trade unions. Since then, the government has taken no concrete steps to improve this situation.