Kazakhstan: Harassment on the part of the Kazakh tax authorities against human rights NGO "International Legal Initiative"

12/04/2017
Urgent Appeal
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KAZ 001 / 0417 / OBS 040
Restrictions to freedom of association
Kazakhstan
April12, 2017

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

Brief description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the harassment on the part of the Kazakh tax authorities against human rights NGO"International Legal Initiative" (ILI) [1].

According to the information received, on April 6, 2017, the Inter-District Economic Court of the city of Almaty concluded that ILI had failed to pay corporate income tax. To date, the total due amountequals 3,900 euros, including a fine and penalties.

This Court decision is the result of a lawsuit which was filed by ILI to contest the outcome of a tax audit conducted by the Department of State Taxes of the Ministry of Finances from August to December 2016. The audit had been triggered on the basis of a letter from a Kazakh citizen requesting tax authorities to inspect NGOs receiving foreign funding. In the letter, the individual referred to an anonymous Internet article reporting about “unclear amounts of funding” granted to “unclear NGOs of Kazakhstan” that “"may work against the main value of Kazakhstan – stability”" and asked the authorities to verify whether three NGOs, ILI, “Kadyr Kasiet" and “Liberty”, were paying their taxes.

In an official notification of the audit results received by ILI on January 9, 2017, the tax audit concluded that grants received by ILI between 2011 and 2015 from certain donors, including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Freedom House, embassies and others, should be subject to income tax under Article 96 of the Tax Code.

The trial hereby set a precedent by de facto depriving ILI of its non-profit status, since corporate income tax is only imposed by governments on profit. ILI intends to appeal the decision of the Inter-District Economic Court of the city of Almaty.

During the trial, references of funding terrorism through NGOs came up often as an argument by the Ministry of Finance, despite the fact that the trial related to a tax issue. It is important to emphasise that the Internet article that was officially cited as a reason for a tax audit also linked terrorism funding with grants allocated to NGOs. In his final speech, the representative of the Ministry of Finance requested the court to take into account the fact that the “foreign grant donors, including NED, Freedom [House] and embassies were also present in Ukraine when that moment happened”, insinuating the role of the latter donors in events in Ukraine, without giving any facts.

The two other human rights NGOs mentioned in the letter "Kadyr Kasiet" and "Liberty" - were also subjected to similar audits. While the audit of the former is still ongoing, the NGO “Liberty” already filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of a decision to impose on them a corporate income tax, but in the meantime its bank accounts have already been frozen and the head of the organisation risks being subject to a travel ban. In the case of non-payment of the tax, all three NGOs eventually risk closure.

The Observatory denounces the sentence handed down against ILI as it sets a negative precedent by de facto depriving an NGO of its non-profit status, and urges Kazakh authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial and administrative level against ILI and all human rights organisations operating in the country as to ensure the respect for freedom of association in Kazakhstan.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Kazakhstan asking them to:

i. Put an end to all acts of harassment, against ILI and all human rights organisations in Kazakhstan;

ii. Revise tax legislation to ensure its compliance with international standards of freedom of association;

iii. Unfreeze the bank accounts of human rights organisation"Liberty" since this measure violates the right to freedom of association as protected by international law;

iv. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially Articles 1, 5, 6 and 12.2; and

v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Kazakhstan.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Nursultan NAZARBAEV, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Fax: + 7 3172 32 61 82, 007 / 3172 / 32 40 89
  • Mr. Kalmukhanbet Kassymov, Minister of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan. Email: Kense@mvd.kz
  • Mr. Zhakyp Assanov, Prosecutor General of Kazakhstan. Fax: +7 7172 506 402
  • Mr. Askar Shakirov, Human Rights Commissioner of Kazakhstan. Fax: +7 7172 74 05 48
  • Ambassador Ms. Zhanar Aitzhanova, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva. Fax: +41 (0) 22 788 66 02. Email: mission@kazakhstan-geneva.ch
  • Ambassador Mr. Almaz KHAMZAYEV, Embassy of Kazakhstan in Brussels. Email: brussels@mfa.kz.
  • Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the OSCE in Vienna. Fax: +43 1 890 80 08 20. Email: kzosce@kazakhstan.at

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Kazakhstan in your respective country.

***

Paris-Geneva, April 12, 2017

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 intervene 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 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

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