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HRW Denounces Kazakhstan's 'Shocking' Crackdown On Rights Groups

Police detain people protesting during parliamentary elections in Aqtobe on January 10.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says an ongoing "crackdown" on human rights groups in Kazakhstan for alleged financial-reporting violations casts "serious doubt" that the Central Asian country's leadership is serious about improving its human rights record.

The New York-based watchdog said on January 20 that the authorities had long used "restrictive laws and overbroad charges" against human rights activists and organizations, "but what's shocking about this latest attack on freedom of association in Kazakhstan is how many groups are being targeted at once and the blatantly unlawful manner in which the authorities are acting."

In a statement, Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at HRW, cited the case of election-monitoring group Echo, which was fined by tax officials in Almaty on January 15. Three days later, officials in Nur-Sultan also fined the human rights group Erkindik Kanaty.

At least four other nongovernmental organizations -- the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, the International Legal Initiative, the Legal Media Center, and MediaNet -- had been summoned to local tax offices in the coming days, Rittmann said, adding that these groups were also facing possible fines and a suspension of their their operations.

In November, tax authorities brought claims against more than a dozen rights groups, in some cases years after the alleged violations of financial reporting, according to the researcher, who urged the international community to "speak out in support of these respected human rights groups and against the coordinated and unlawful actions of the Kazakh authorities against them."

"Their future existence could depend on it," she added.

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