Kazakhstan: Democracy Stepping Backward

NEW YORK
Legal maneuvers carried out this week by the government of Kazakhstan will significantly threaten the work of civil society and further undermine an already weakened political opposition, Freedom House warned today. Following the political uprising in March in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Kazakh authorities began a concerted campaign against political opponents and foreign and domestic non-governmental organizations. These new, restrictive measures will result in the substantial erosion of political rights and civil liberties in Kazakhstan.

"Kazakhstan is drawing exactly the wrong lessons from the Kyrgyz experience," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "Instead of looking for ways ensure a free and open society, the government has instead decided to stifle dissent and stamp out civil society. In the long term, this is a recipe for disaster."

A recent amendment to Kazahkstan's election law bans public demonstrations between the end of an election campaign and the announcement of election results. The new law, which contradicts international standards of free assembly, also places tighter restrictions on the timing for registering political candidates for elections. Additionally, the government ordered the closure of the opposition newspaper Respublika on May 6.

The Kazakh government also appears determined to cut off the local nongovernmental sector from foreign counterparts. A draft law recently introduced before parliament would significantly restrict foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from operating in Kazakhstan and from providing grants to domestic groups. More worrisome is the passage of an amendment to the national security law, which, among other restrictions, forbids participating in the activities of, or providing financing to, unregistered NGOs, a contravention of international standards of free association. It also prohibits activity by foreigners, foreign legal entities, and international organizations that might interfere in the outcome of elections and expands the punitive jurisdiction of the finance and tax police.

These moves come as Kazakhstan maneuvers for the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009, which will be determined next year.

"The government of Kazakhstan must reverse these repressive measures if it is truly interested in maintaining stability at home," said Ms. Windsor. "OSCE member states must make clear that chairmanship of the organization will not be granted to governments that deprive their citizens of the right to open dissent and that cut off their links with the outside world."

More background on Kazakhstan is available online:

Nations in Transit: Kazakhstan

Countries at the Crossroads: Kazakhstan

Freedom in the World: Kazakhstan

Freedom of the Press 2005: Kazakhstan

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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