ALMATY -- Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized Kazakh authorities for their "arbitrary and discriminatory" refusal to register a feminist initiative that promotes the rights of marginalized women in the country as a nongovernmental organization (NGO).
Kazakhstan should stop preventing Feminita and other groups arbitrarily denied registration from operating lawfully "just because they are critical of the government or work on controversial issues," HRW said in a statement on September 13.
The call comes after a Kazakh appeals court on September 3 upheld a decision by the Almaty department of the Justice Ministry to deny Feminita registration on the grounds that it didn’t comply with the Law on Noncommercial Organizations.
The decision had earlier been upheld as lawful by a lower court.
Feminita, which has been operating informally since 2015, focuses on defending the rights of lesbian, bisexual, and queer women, as well as other groups that "routinely face harassment, discrimination, and the threat of violence," according to HRW.
Kazakh authorities have denied registration to independent trade unions and other organizations that are critical of or work on issues deemed controversial by the authorities.
Feminita claims it does comply with the law, and the authorities did not explain what the shortcomings were or what steps the group needed to take to comply -- even though they legally are required to do so.
"It feels like they are constantly searching for grounds to stop our work," HRW quoted Zhanar Sekerbaeva, co-founder of Feminita, as saying.
"There are and have been for a long time lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women in Kazakhstan, and with this [denial] it is as if they are excluding an entire group from society," she told the New York-based human rights watchdog.
Registration is required for organizations to conduct activities such as raising money and hosting events, and individuals can face fines and administrative charges if they direct or participate in an unregistered group.
The authorities this year denied Feminita permission to organize a march for International Women’s Day, HRW said, adding that Sekerbaeva was detained and fined $30 on "minor hooliganism" charges for organizing a photo shoot that she said was intended to destigmatize menstruation.