International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) call on the EU to prominently raise free speech and torture cases in talks with Kazakhstan’s government.
The two organizations have submitted briefing material detailing cases of concern to the EU ahead of its annual Human Rights Dialogue with Kazakhstan, which is set to take place in Astana today. They ask the EU to intervene in support of victims of free speech violations and torture at this meeting, as well as in other interactions with Kazakhstan’s government, with which it is about to enter into closer political and economic relations now that an enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement has been negotiated and is expected to be signed soon.
In an alarming trend, there has recently been a growing number of cases in Kazakhstan where journalists, activists and other individuals have been charged under broadly worded Criminal Code provisions that lend themselves to enforcement unduly restricting freedom of expression and other fundamental rights. These include, in particular, Criminal Code provisions prohibiting “inciting” social, inter-ethnic and other “discord”; “spreading false information”; and propagating “separatism”, which have all been criticized by international human rights bodies and NGOs for falling short of the requirements of international law. In many cases, criminal charges concern information posted or shared on social media, and the upsurge in these cases is taking place in a context in which the authorities appear to be seeking to step up control over such online resources.
“The EU should insist that the Kazakhstani authorities stop criminally prosecuting individuals who are legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression to voice opinions or share information that may not be to the liking of those in power”, said Brigitte Dufour, IPHR Director. She added: “Open debate – both off- and online — is a key element in any society aspiring to be a free and democratic one”.
These are recent worrying cases, which are described in more detail in the IPHR-KIBHR submission to the EU:
Although the authorities of Kazakhstan have taken some positive steps aimed at ending torture and ill-treatment in recent years, these practices continue and impunity is still the norm. Since the beginning of 2015, KIBHR and other members of the NGO Coalition against Torture in Kazakhstan have registered about 100 new cases of alleged use of torture and ill-treatment. In its November 2014 Concluding Observations, the UN Committee against Torture pointed out that less than 2% of torture complaints have led to prosecutions, and the situation is believed to have remained largely unchanged since then.
“In order to end impunity in cases of torture, the EU should call on Kazakhstan to set up a special body that is fully independent of the police and tasked with promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigating all allegations of torture and ill-treatment“, said Roza Akylbekova, KIBHR Director and Coordinator of the Kazakhstani NGO Coalition against Torture.
These cases, which are documented in more detail in the submission to the EU, illustrate the need for an independent investigative body:
The briefing material prepared by IPHR and KIBHR also highlights broader concerns about the protection of freedom of expression, association and assembly, as well as the ban on torture that the EU is asked to address with Kazakhstan’s government. These include: the pattern of forced media closures; court rulings awarding huge damages in defamation lawsuits targeting media; arbitrary and indiscriminate blocking of websites; the adoption of new widely criticized NGO legislation that may be used to unduly restrict the activities of NGOs; and the continued enforcement of repressive legislation and practice on peaceful assemblies. As regards torture, shortcomings of the National Preventive Mechanism; the failure to consistently implement fundamental legal safeguards in detention; and the lack of implementation of UN treaty body decisions on individual cases are major issues of concern.