2012 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
Written Interventions by
Working Session 1 (Fundamental Freedoms I), Monday 24 September 2012:
Current challenges to freedom of expression in
In the area of freedom of expression, three trends are currently of particular concern in Kazakhstan: 1) the persistent pattern of defamation lawsuits targeting newspapers and journalists, 2) the growing number of physical attacks on journalists that has taken place in recent months, and 3) the use of charges of “inciting social hatred” and other similar charges against political opposition members and civil society activists.
Defamation suits against newspapers and journalists are typically brought by officials who argue that they have been “offended” by investigative articles that concern the actions of authorities and request huge amounts in moral damages.
· On 20 July 2012, a local court in the city of
Known for articles critically examining the activities of authorities and other public actors, Akhmedyarov had already previously faced several defamation suits. In April this year he was attacked by unknown perpetrators (see more below). Moreover,
In addition to officials, other public figures also use defamation suits as a means to try to stifle criticism of their persons.
· In appeal hearing held on 12 June 2012, the East Kazakhstan regional court overturned a decision previously made by the
In the last six months, a number of physical attacks on journalists have been reported in different parts of
· Maxim Kartashov, sport journalist and publisher of the journal Ice Hockey Kazakhstan, was attacked late on 13 August 2012 outside the apartment building where he lives. According to him, three assailants put a stranglehold on his neck, pushed him down on the ground and started kicking him with their feet. The assailants fled, however, as other residents of the building arrived to the scene, alerted by the noise. Kartashov believes that the attack was related to his professional activities. He writes about the life of sports people behind the scenes, and his journal has often carried articles about corruption in sports in
· In the night of 8 August 2012, journalist Ularbek Baytaylak was brutally beaten in the vicinity of his home in an Astana suburb. After beating him, the perpetrators covered him with stones as if to symbolize his funeral. At day break he was brought to hospital with serious injuries. A number of Baytaylak’s articles, which have appeared in the Dat and Chetvertaja Vlast newspapers and in the Altyn Tamyr journal, have been critical of authorities.
· Opposition newspaper Golos Respubliki’s correspondent Andrey Tsukanov was attacked by unknown perpetrators in Almaty on 5 August 2012. As Tsukanov was on his way home at night, he was attacked from behind and hit on the head with a hard object, as a result of which he lost consciousness. The attackers took his passport, bank card, cell phones, journalist accreditation, as well as a train ticket to the city of
· In the night of 20 April 2012, Uralskaya Nedelya journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov was attacked and seriously injured outside the apartment building where he lives in the city of
A third recent trend of concern is the use of charges of “inciting social hatred”, and other similarly vaguely worded Criminal Code articles against political opposition members and civil society activists.
· Currently a trial is under way in Aktau against opposition Alga party leader Vladimir Kozlov, opposition People’s Front member Serik Sapargali and trade union leader Akzhanat Aminov, who represented protesting workers during the 2011 oil worker strikes in Zhanaozen. They have all been charged with “inciting social hatred” (Criminal Code article 164) and “calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order” (Criminal Code article 170), and are accused of promoting the December 2011 riots in Zhanaozen. While Aminov was a leading figure in the peaceful oil worker strike that preceded the Zhanozen events, well-known opposition members Kozlov and Sapargali publicly supported the striking workers in their struggle and visited the region during the strike. According to the indictment, the three men used the “radical” and “extremist” Vzglyad, Golos Respubliki and Obchestvennya Pozitsiya newspapers and satellite K+ channel (all of which are opposition media) in order to pursue their “extremist” plans. During the process, procedural violations have been observed. In particular, Vladimir Kozlov was not granted sufficient time to familiarize himself with the lengthy indictment and to prepare his defense prior to the start of the trial. It is expected that the ruling in the case will be announced by the end of September.
In 2011 Natalia Sokolova, lawyer of protesting oil workers in Zhanozen, was sentenced to six years in prison on, among others, charges of “inciting social hatred.” In March 2012, she was released after the Supreme Court ruled to re-qualify the charges against her and changed her sentence to a three-year suspended one. She was, however, also prohibited from engaging in “public” activities.
Recommendations to the authorities of
- Establish upper limits for the amounts of moral damages that can be awarded in any defamation lawsuits, and provide protection for statements of opinions and reasonable publication of information in the public interest.
· Ensure impartial and thorough investigations into all physical attacks against journalists with a view to holding accountable those responsible.
- Stop using the vaguely worded criminal offense on “inciting social hatred” and other similar charges against opposition members and civil society activists who have exercised freedom of expression and other fundamental rights in a peaceful and legitimate manner.
Working Session 2 (Fundamental Freedoms II), Tuesday 25 September 2012:
Continued restrictions of freedom of assembly in
Kazakhstani authorities continue to restrict freedom of assembly with the same tactics as previously: applications to hold assemblies are rejected on arbitrary grounds or assemblies are only allowed in specifically designated places, which are typically located at the outskirts of cities. If assemblies are held elsewhere, or without applying for permission at all, participants are frequently detained and brought to court, where they are fined sizeable amounts or sentenced to administrative arrest for their involvement in unsanctioned assemblies. These tactics are used above all against members of political and civil society groups that are critical of authorities.
Authorities also use other means to try to obstruct the conduct of unsanctioned assemblies held by opposition-minded groups, including “preventive” detentions of activists prior to protests. In some cases, those targeted by such detentions are brought to court on charges of planning to conduct an unsanctioned assembly or disseminating information about such an event.
During trials related to assemblies, judges base their rulings on
The following two examples illustrate actions taken by authorities in relation to protest actions held with the involvement of opposition-minded groups:
· On 31 May 2012, about 200 people gathered at a central Almaty avenue to commemorate the day of victims of political repression. Local authorities rejected the application to hold the assembly at this place and the organizers and participants faced intimidation and harassment. A few days prior to the event, the five organizations that submitted the application were warned by prosecutor office representatives that they may be held responsible for organizing an unsanctioned assembly. Members of the opposition Alga party were detained when they were distributing invitations to the event, and the invitations were confiscated. Two of the organizers, Alihan Ramazanov and Georgy Arhangelsky were detained as they were leaving their homes on the day of the assembly. Leader of the Amansaulyk NGO Bahyt Tumenovoy and civil society activist Adilzhan Kenzhegaliev, who both moderated at the event, were brought to court and fined around EUR 170 and EUR 430, respectively, in a hearing held on 4 June.
· On 28 April 2012, so-called Disagreement Day rallies took place in the cities of Almaty, Astana, Taldykorgan, Taraz, Shymkent, Atyrau,
In Almaty some 400 people gathered outside Hotel Kazakhstan. Some 15 minutes before the start of the rally about 20 police and special force officers forcefully detained civil society activist Ermek Narymbaev, who subsequently was brought to court and fined some 170 EUR. After the rally about ten people were detained and three fined. In the morning of the day of the rally, leader of the “Let’s grant people accommodation” association Larisa Boyar and the head of the Ar Rykh Hak group Bahytzhan Toregozhina were detained in their homes. They were both subsequently sentenced to 15 days’ administrative arrest. Toregozhina was accused of making online appeals for holding the rally, while Boyar was held accountable for inviting journalists to it. Also in other cities, a number of rally participants were detained and fined.
Moreover, in the period leading up to 28 April, opposition and civil society activists involved in coordinating and mobilizing support for the Disagreement Day rallies, were subjected to various forms of pressure. Among others, they were warned that they may face legal consequences if they participate in the non-sanctioned protests and detained when disseminating invitations.
The following two examples depict cases where local residents have been subjected to pressure when staging protests to express dissatisfaction with the conduct of local authorities:
· In early August 2012, some 30-40 residents of the Besova housing complex in the city of
· On 21 May 2012, residents of the Almerek settlement close to Almaty marched up to the local administration with posters in their hands, demanding that the authorities fix broken roads, clean the local water supply system and address the problem of continuous interruptions in electricity supply. The protesters also brought their children along. The following day, children who had been present were summoned by police. As reported by these children and their parents, the children were made to write statements stating who had brought them to the unsanctioned protest action. This was done in the presence of the principal of their school. The police officers involved claimed that they only invited the children for “discussion.”
Recommendations to the authorities of
· Abolish existing restrictions on freedom of assembly (in legislation and practice) that are in violation of international standards, in particular article 21 of the ICCPR. Among others, the authorities should stop requiring that organizers of assemblies obtain permission in advance, and instead allow them to simply give notice about their plans to hold such actions.
· Ensure that peaceful protests can take place without undue interference or harassment of organizers and participants.
Working Sessions 10-11 (Specifically selected topic: Freedom of
thought, conscience, religion or belief), Monday 1 October 2012:
Violations of freedom of religion in
The new “Law on Religious Activity and Religious Associations” (hereafter Religion Law) that was adopted in
According to the new Religion Law, religious communities that already were registered when the law entered into force must re-register within a year, i.e. by the end of October 2012. If they do not, they risk liquidation. Registration or re-registration requires a mimimum of 50 signatures by members. In order to register or re-register, religious communities must also pass an “expert review,” which is aimed at determining whether their statutes, programs and other materials are consistent with the requirements of the law. Currently no clear evaluation criteria or methodology have been established for this review. Also, no time limit has been set for how long an expert review may last.
Currently there are no known statistics as to the number of religious associations that have obtained re-registration versus those that have not. Numerous cases are known, however, when so-called non-traditional Protestant communities and small Muslim communities have not been able to acquire re-registration because they have failed to compile the required number of signatures, pass the required “expert review” or complete the required process for other reasons. There are also cases when officials dealing with registration have demanded that religious associations wishing to register comply with requirements that are not provided for by law. They have for example, requested lists of the founders of religious groups, threatening to stall the re-registration process otherwise.
The new Law on Religion has also been used to justify ongoing harassment of non-traditional religious communities and their members, such as raids on their meetings, intrusive inspections (e.g. inspections to check the facilities they are using), fines and pressure on them to stop their activities.
· At the end of May 2012, a Grace Presbyterian Church based in the city of
· Also at the end of May, local authorities in the city of Taldykorgan forced a Methodist church to “voluntarily” close down after its facilities were inspected and the wife of the church’s pastor was fined some 8000 Tenge (about 40 EUR) for allowing religious services to take place in her home. She was accused of using land for purposes other than those for which it is intended (article 253 of the Administrative Code), although the Law on Religion does allow religious meetings to take place in “dwellings” “if necessary” and on condition that “the rights and interests of nearby residents” are respected (article 7.2). At the time of its announcement to close down, the church was officially registered, as it had obtained registration in 2001. Its leaders feared, however, that they would not be able to compile the 50 signatures required for re-registration under the new Law on Religion and agreed to the closure as they wanted to avoid further problems with law enforcement authorities. After the pastor’s wife already had paid the fine she was given, officials admitted that it had been “unlawful.”
· On 20 March 2012, local officials in the
No effective measures are typically taken in response to appeals and complaints submitted to prosecutor offices and other relevant authorities about unlawful actions targeting religious communities, to hold those responsible for such actions accountable or to prevent new cases of this kind.
Recommendations to the authorities of
· Revise the 2011 Religion Law with a view to ensuring that it is consistent with provisions protecting freedom of religion under
· Put an end to harassment of non-traditional minority religious communities, take effective measures in response to complaints about unlawful actions by officials against individual religious communities and believers, and promote religious tolerance.
 After the jury deemed the activist not guilty of the initial charges, the judge re-qualified the charges against him to “abusing his responsibilities” (under article 327 of the Criminal Code). In a ruling of 28 August 2012, he was sentenced to one year restriction of freedom on these charges (instead of 14 years in prison, as initially requested by the prosecutor) and released. See KIBHR statement, 28 August 2012, http://www.bureau.kz/data.php?page=0&n_id=4841&l=ru
 See joint open NGO letter, 28 April 2012, http://www.iphronline.org/kazakhstan_20120428_e.html
 See statement by KIBHR, IPHR and NHC, 27 April 2012, http://www.iphronline.org/kazakhstan_20120427_e.html
 Forum 18, “The church will be closed down anyway,” 30 May 2012, at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1708
 Forum 18, ”Ahmadi Muslims closed down everywhere, Methodist congregation next?,” 24 April 2012, at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1692
 See previous footnote.
 Forum 18, ”’Unlawful’ fine – but will state do anything about it?,” 13 August 2012, http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1731