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Kazakhstan Reforms Protest Law Amid Tough Criticism From Rights Groups

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev

Kazakhstan has reformed laws on strictly controlled peaceful assembly that critics say fall short of international human rights standards and amount to window dressing.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev signed legislation into law on May 25 that defines how many people can attend a demonstration, what venues are available for rallies, and what permission is needed to conduct such public events.

The new law also bans foreigners from joining protests or organizing them.

Kazakh and international human rights activists have repeatedly noted that the bill contradicts international standards and is replete with numerous restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles.

According to experts, the procedures described in the bill actually require authorities to grant “permission” for a peaceful assembly and they have many reasons to refuse.

“Despite some changes in procedures, the law leaves room for Kazakhstan’s authorities to continue to unjustifiably restrict people from exercising their right to peaceful protest,” said Mihra Rittmann, Human Rights Watch researcher for Europe and Central Asia.

In April, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups wrote a letter to Toqaev urging him to reevaluate the public assembly law to bring it into line with international standards.

Adding to concerns about the process that led to the new law, parliament debated the bill while the country was under coronavirus restrictions that limited the ability of citizens to organize to express their opinions.

RFE/RL has reported that during the coronavirus lockdown authorities clamped down on and monitored civil rights activists critical of the revisions to the law on assembly.

Tokaev came to power in 2019 pledging reforms in the energy-rich Central Asian country following three decades of rule by his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Nazarbaev still maintains key positions of power, including head of the country’s Security Council and ruling Nur Otan party.

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