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Kazakh Lawmakers Discuss Controversial Bill On Rules For Protests

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NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh lawmakers have begun discussing a controversial law on protest rallies that has been criticized by rights defenders as failing to meet international standards.

Chairman of the parliamentary committee for legislation and judicial reforms, Nurlan Abdirov, introduced the legislation on March 11 to the lower house chamber, the Mazhilis.

The bill was drafted after President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev publicly promised to remove a regulation that forced organizers of protest rallies to obtain permission from authorities to hold events. The promise came after mass rallies were dispersed by police before, during, and after a presidential election in June 2019.

Critics, however, says the bill replaces the obligation to obtain permission to hold protest actions from authorities with a new step that organizers must inform authorities in a timely manner about rallies only where no more than 250 people would participate.

For bigger rallies, it still would be necessary to obtain permissions, the rallies would be allowed only in specially designated sites, and stricter repercussions would follow potential violation of the regulations.

Meanwhile, three feminist activists were summoned to police over their participation in an unsanctioned rally on March 8, International Women's Day, in Almaty.

Arina Osinovskaya said she is suspected of violating regulations for mass gatherings, while Fariza Ospanova says she is suspected of minor hooliganism.

Bakhytzhan Toreghozhina, an Almaty-based human rights activist, said on March 11 that another feminist activist, Leila Makhmudova, had also been summoned to police over the March 8 rally.

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