Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan: Civic space limited by continued fallout from January 2022 events

During the reporting period, the situation in Kazakhstan continued to be affected by the fallout from the January 2022 events, when mass protests for social and political change were met with excessive force by the authorities and parts of the crowd resorted to violence. Representatives of the international community have repeatedly expressed concerns about the human rights impact of these events and called for an effective and impartial investigation into them. Read more

Kazakhstan: Civic space limited by continued fallout from January 2022 events

On the Watchlist: Widespread violations reported during ‘’Bloody January’’

At the beginning of January 2022, thousands of people across Kazakhstan took to the streets in peaceful protests to call for social and political change. The protests turned bloody as the authorities used force to put an end to them, and some parts of the crowd resorted to violence . The circumstances under which the protests evolved into unrest, riots and clashes between protesters and security forces, as well as the role of different actors in these developments, have yet to be fully clarified. However, there are serious concerns about the manner in which the authorities responded to the crisis, in particular their failure to make a distinction between non-peaceful and peaceful protest participants, both of whom were indiscriminately branded ‘’terrorists’’; arbitrary mass detentions of protesters; reports of the excessive use of force, including the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters and passers-by; widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment, due process violations and disappearances of detained protesters; as well as the prosecution of people for merely peacefully exercising their freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression. These events, which constitute the most serious crisis experienced by Kazakhstan during its 30 years of independence, seriously affected civic space in the country. Due to a rapid decline in civic freedoms, Kazakhstan is currently featured on the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist. Read more

On the Watchlist: Widespread violations reported during ‘’Bloody January’’

Tragic death of long-term political prisoner, systematic violations of fundamental freedoms

During the reporting period, freedom of expression continued to be restricted in Kazakhstan, especially through silencing of journalists and other media professionals with the use of criminal and administrative charges and other legal means. Numerous new cases aimed at silencing independent and critical voices were reported. Additionally, the number of strikes in Kazakhstan increased sharply in 2021. Recently, courts have begun cracking down on strikes, especially those taking place in the oil sector, and have declared them illegal. Meanwhile, the authorities continued to crack down on supporters of the opposition movements the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and the Street Party, both of which have been banned as “extremist’’ by a court, although they do not advocate or endorse violence. Kazakhstan’s longest serving political prisoner, Aron Atabek, was released on parole in October 2021 after serving 15 years behind bars. Shortly after his release, he tragically passed away Read more

Tragic death of long-term political prisoner, systematic violations of fundamental freedoms

Silenced dissent, sentencing of opposition activists, and still no right to peacefully assemble

The reporting period was characterised by an overwhelming number of prosecutions for participating in activities of a banned extremist organisation (Article 405 of the Criminal Code). In all cases, the targeted citizens are facing charges for allegedly supporting the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) and/or the Street Party, both of which have been banned and labelled extremist by court rulings. A significant number of administrative sentences and fines were also handed to citizens for exercising their right to peaceful assembly. Despite the adoption of a new law on the right to demonstrate last year, citizens are still denied this right in practice, especially when attempting to voice concerns about politically sensitive or controversial issues. Read more

Silenced dissent, sentencing of opposition activists, and still no right to peacefully assemble

Muffled protests and persecution of opposition movements, NGOs and trade unions

The reporting period saw several cases of pressure and obstruction of the work of trade unions and NGOs and continued persecution of activists from the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) and the Street Party, opposition movements which have been banned as “extremist’’ by court decisions in Kazakhstan, although they do not advocate or endorse violence. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly remained under threat, with authorities continuing to arrest and prosecute citizens for administrative offences months after an unsanctioned demonstration has taken place. Furthermore, the authorities have begun to systematically switch off internet connectivity in parts of Almaty during demonstrations. During the reporting period, there were cases when the police used kettling against protesters for over ten hours at a time Read more

Muffled protests and persecution of opposition movements, NGOs and trade unions

Wave of political repression: witch hunts for activists, marred elections and scores of arrests

Events during this reporting period form part of the strongest wave of politically motivated repression in Kazakhstan since the aftermath of the 2011 events in Zhanaozen. Over 30 people were detained and are currently in custody across the country in retaliation for their peaceful exercise of the freedoms of expression, association and assembly. On top of that, at least 50 people detained for exercising their freedoms have been sentenced to prison, and around 250 have been summoned for interrogation as suspects and witnesses in criminal cases initiated in this context. Most of these people have been charged with participating in a banned extremist organisation under Article 405 of the Kazakhstani Criminal Code, a provision that the authorities use to target individuals associated with the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) and Street Party movements. Both movements have been banned and labelled as extremist organisations by a court.

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Wave of political repression: witch hunts for activists, marred elections and scores of arrests

Massive restrictions on expression during COVID-19; sudden banning of peaceful opposition

The reporting period was characterised by mass restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of association, specifically in relation to the banning of the popular unregistered “Street Party” movement by a court decision in May 2020 after it was labelled as extremist. The reporting period also saw important legislative developments, including changing slander from a criminal to an administrative offence and the corresponding reduction of penalties from prison sentences to fines. However, insult and insulting a government representative remain criminal offences. Read more

Massive restrictions on expression during COVID-19; sudden banning of peaceful opposition

Systematic persecution of CSO activists; attacks on freedom of expression and assembly continue

The first three months of 2020 saw ongoing and systematic persecution of civil society activists, journalists, bloggers and other citizens exercising their right to freely express themselves. The situation is currently deteriorating, particularly in connection with the state of emergency, which was declared in the country on 16th March 2020 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Citizens who spoke up about the status of the pandemic in Kazakhstan and the authorities’ handling of it have on numerous occasions been criminally prosecuted. Political activists associated with two unregistered political parties – the new Democratic Party and the new movement “Street Party” - have faced persecution, administrative prosecution and significant harassment, both from the authorities and from unidentified persons. Read more

Systematic persecution of CSO activists; attacks on freedom of expression and assembly continue

Changes ahead or status quo? Presidential promises amidst ongoing prosecution of political activists

During December 2019 there were numerous detentions of citizens participating in unsanctioned demonstrations, especially on Kazakhstan’s Independence Day on 16th December 2019, which is marked every year with demonstrations and small-scale pickets across the country. The detentions illustrate that the worrying trend of detaining anyone who demonstrates public dissent continues. However, on 20th December 2019 President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev made several statements which alluded to potential positive changes in the situation for civil society, media and activists in Kazakhstan.
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Changes ahead or status quo? Presidential promises amidst ongoing prosecution of political activists

Kazakhstan: Civil society activists intimidated, harassed and imprisoned

Fundamental freedoms have continuously been severely restricted in Kazakhstan.
Civil society activists, bloggers, protest participants and others - who criticised authorities in power - faced intimidation and harassment, including prosecution on charges brought against their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, association and assembly. Read more

Kazakhstan: Civil society activists intimidated, harassed and imprisoned