Kazakhstan: Attacks against Mr. Yevgeniy Zhovtis and other representatives of KIBHR

Urgent Appeal

New information
KAZ 001 / 0520 / OBS 050.1
Attacks /
Harassment / Smear campaign
July 6, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Kazakhstan.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the latest attack against human rights defenders, and in particular against Mr. Yevgeniy Zhovtis and other representatives of the non-governmental human rights organisation “Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law” (KIBHR) [1], who critisized the excessively restrictive law “On the Procedure for Organizing and Holding Peaceful Assemblies in the Republic of Kazakhstan” that was adopted in Kazakhstan in April this year.

According to the information received, during his June 25, 2020 interview to the Ana Tili newspaper (“Mother Tongue” in Kazakh), the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev claimed that the Kazakh human rights defenders who criticised the new law did so in order to destabilise the nation. The interview further states that “some of the citizens, who receive grants from international human rights organisations, came up with ungrounded critiques of the law. In their opinion, in Kazakhstan there must be the principle "When I want, with whom I want, where I want", that is, complete permissiveness. I was especially outraged by their demands to allow foreign citizens and minors to participate in assemblies". [2]

The Observatory is alarmed by the striking resemblance of this narrative to that by the Russian authorities, which demonizes civil society organisations labeling them ‘foreign agents’. The attack against the human rights defenders seems particularly disturbing against the backdrop of the expansion of nationalistic discourse within the Kazakh society and growing influence of the nationalist polititians.

The Observatory reminds the systematic failure [3] of the Kazakhstan authorities to guarantee the freedom of assembly: Kazakhstan has long been criticized for its restrictive laws regulating demonstrations. [4] President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev pledged in 2019 to carry out reforms after succeeding Nursultan Nazarbaev, who ruled the country for nearly 30 years.

The Observatory fears that the latest attack constitute a reprisal for the critical attitude of the KIBHR and its employees towards the legislation, including the above mentioned law. In particular, it imposes severe and unjust restrictions as to the time and the place of assemblies, prohibits foreigners from holding assemblies, and places heavy burdens on the organisers of assemblies, contrary to Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

The Observatory strongly condemns the attack against the KIBHR members and the inaction of the authorities regarding the increasing attacks, acts of harassment and provocations against human rights defenders, and urges the Kazakh authorities to take swift and stern measures to reverse the current trend detrimental to the independence of the civil society and democracy in Kazakhstan.

Background information:

Since May 2020, a smear campaign against Mr. Yevgeniy Zhovtis and other representatives of the non-governmental human rights organisation KIBHR is underway in Kazakhstan. The acts of harassment in social networks and online news media came after the critical position taken by the KIBHR in relation to the draft law “On the Procedure for Organizing and Holding Peaceful Assemblies in the Republic of Kazakhstan”, that was adopted by Majilis (the lower Chamber of the Parliament) on April 8, 2020, while the state of emergency was declared in the country [5].

On April 28, 2020, a large-scale, well-orchestrated smear campaign was launched in the media and social networks against Mr. Yevgeniy Zhovtis, the KIBHR, and other civil society organisations critical of the law. The online operation followed several publications by the KIBHR, including a statement [6] against the adoption of the draft law, which it found to be contrary to international human rights standards on the freedom of assembly, and a translation of the Recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, who has previously addressed his concerns on the issue to the Kazakhstan government. [7]

Several dozens of publications appeared on social networks and online media, that systematically receive funds from the State, in a short period of time from April 28 to May 2, 2020. Many of the posts similar in letter and identical in spirit appeared almost simultaneously within the span of one or two days. Besides ordinary internet users and fake accounts, among the authors of publications are public figures known for extreme nationalist views and owners of a government-linked "troll factory”. [8] These posts were primarily accusing the KIBHR of defending the right of foreigners to peaceful assembly. Many of the attacks were also focused on the ethnicity of the KIBHR employees and on the fact that the organisation receives funding from foreign donors.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Kazakhstan asking them to:

i. Postpone the consideration of the draft law “On the Procedure for Organising and Holding Peaceful Assemblies in the Republic of Kazakhstan” as well as any other not urgent legislative initiatives until the state of emergency is aborted in Kazakhstan;
ii. Put an end to all forms of harassment against Mr. Yevgeniy Zhovtis and other representatives of the KIBHR, and all the human rights defenders in Kazakhstan;
iii. Carry out a transparent, impartial, immediate and thorough investigation into the above-mentioned attacks in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, sanction them as provided by the law and provide the victims with effective remedies;
iv. Ensure that human rights defenders and human rights organisations are able to carry out their legitimate activities, including online, without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
v. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1 and 12;
vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Kazakhstan.

• H.E. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kazakhstan, Fax: +7 71 72 74 56 31; Twitter: @TokayevKZ
• Mr. Yerlan Turgumbayev, Minister of Internal Affairs, Email: Kense@mvd.kz, Phone: +7 71 72 72 20 50
• Mr. Marat Beketayev, Minister of Justice, Phone: +7 71 72 74 07 97, Email: kanc@adilet.gov.kz
• H.E. Ms. Zhanar Aitzhanova, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, Phone: +41 22 788 66 00, Fax: +41 22 788 66 02, Email: mission@kazakhstan-geneva.ch
• H.E. Mr. Almaz Khamzayev, Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Brussels, Belgium, Phone: (+32) 2 237 49 562, Fax: (+32) 2 374 50 91, Email: kazakhstan.embassy@swing.be

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Kazakhstan located in your country.
Paris-Geneva, July 6, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

[1] KIBHR is a FIDH member organisation.
[2] See the original Kazakh version: http://anatili.kazgazeta.kz/?p=57708 ; and a Russian translation: https://www.inform.kz/ru/kasym-zhomart-tokaev-sud-ba-kazahskogo-naroda-nahoditsya-na-vesah-istorii_a3665771
[3] See: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakh-activists-detained-ahead-planned-opposition-rallies-almaty/30448524.html
[4] See: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-protests-human-rights/30634060.html
[5] While the bill will greatly impact the implementation of civil and political rights in Kazakhstan, the undue haste with the adoption of the law during the state of emergency was largely critisized by civil society in Kazakhstan and beyond.
[6] See: https://bureau.kz/en/hot/do-not-pass-poorly-prepared-law-on-public-protest-while-country-in-covid-19-lockdown/?fbclid=IwAR3XRpTET4vzCNRDjxCJgftiMXQr3sR_l-F05Ck1K9ArJWtz07032tE_BCg
[7] On April 21, 2020, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association addressed his concerns regarding the bill to the authorities of Kazakhstan. He notably pointed out that “parts of new draft law do not seem to be in line with international human rights standards, and more precisely the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as guaranteed by Article 21 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” ratified by Kazakhstan in 2006.
[8] An organisation set up in order to publish a large number of messages or posts on the internet, that often appear to be from people who do not really exist, and that are intended to cause trouble, influence political views, etc. Please see details here: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/troll-factory

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