Human rights monitoring in Kazakhstan under threat

In the aftermath of the presidential elections of 9 June, public protests have taken place across Kazakhstan, and hundreds of protestors have been detained. Monitors of the protests, who have uncovered numerous breaches of the law by law enforcers, have been subject to various forms of harassment. A 24 July appeal signed by 39 Kazakhstani human rights defenders asks the question whether “Kazakhstan will become a law-abiding state, or will the witch hunt continue?”. It states that “the safety situation of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists has drastically turned to the worse as of late”.

The letter in particular highlights the disruption on 22 July of a press conference of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHR). The press conference was organized to discuss the cases of three women imprisoned for participating in unsanctioned protests, and disrupted by a group of approximately twenty women.

Several of the journalists  present at the event reported about the incident, including about attacks against themselves. Nurgul Tapaeva, a reporter for the Radio Azattyq was verbally assaulted and punched. As a result of the attack, her camera was broken. The women also damaged the camera of a crew from local broadcaster Almaty TV and captured the camera of a journalist working for private news agency KazTag. A police officer was present during the attack but did not intervene to prevent it. Both KIBHR and several journalists submitted complaints to the local police about the attack and pre-trial investigations were presumably launched. The faces of the attackers were clearly visible on video material shot at the event.

KIBHR director Yevgeny Zhovtis stated that: "I do not doubt that the "power" is behind this. I don’t even need proof; there’s a straightforward proof - the impunity [of the attackers]". "The biggest danger that I see is that the state delegates the right to violence to other people. This is extremely dangerous because it creates civil strife and conflict".

Harlem Désir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, has called on the Kazakh authorities to investigate the attacks on journalists. Also, US Ambassador William Cortney appealed to President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev to condemn the attacks.

Despite these appeals and continued attention for follow-up of the incident by Kazakhstani civil society organisations, as of mid August 2019 no meaningful steps had been taken by police to follow up on the incident.

On 1 August, the “7th Platform for Security and Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Civic Activists”, organized by human rights NGO Kadyr Kassiyet issued a wider ranging appeal for reforms in Kazakhstan, including a call for the “release of Kazakhstanis convicted for political reasons, Yerlan Baltabay, Aron Yedygeyev, Max Bokayev, Mukhtar Dzhakishev, Larissa Kharkova, Nurbek Kushakbayev, Amin Yeleussinov, Iskander Yerimbetov, Asset Abishev, Almat Zhumagulov, Kenzhebek Abishev and others”