KAZAKHSTAN: “Nothing new under the Kazakh sun”: president signs new law designed to stymie the freedom to protest

Press release

Geneva-Paris, May 28, 2020 – A new law on public assemblies signed by the president of Kazakhstan on Monday falls short of several key international human rights standards. The bill was adopted while the country was under a rigorous quarantine due to Covid-19, severely limiting the possibility for society to express its concerns about the law in a meaningful way. A prominent human rights defender and critic of the law was subjected to a well-orchestrated smear campaign on government-friendly social media. [1] The Observatory (OMCT- FIDH) calls upon the authorities in Kazakhstan to heed the call of UN and other experts and amend its legislation to comply with international law.

On May 25, 2020, president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed law no. 333-VI “On the Procedure for the Organization and Holding of Peaceful Assemblies in the Republic of Kazakhstan.” The law will enter into force 10 days after its official publication.

In the aftermath of unprecedented street protests against the unfair electoral process in June 2019, Tokayev promised to adopt a new law on public assemblies. In February 2020 the Ministry of information and social development transmitted a draft to the parliament. The Kazakhstan international bureau for human rights and rule of law, a member organisation of FIDH, and numerous international NGOs criticized the draft for severely curtailing the right to freedom of assembly enshrined in article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Kazakhstan on April 24, 2006. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association stated that the draft contradicted international standards and that the authorities had failed to implement his recommendations made after a visit to Kazakhstan in 2015. [2]

Reacting to the sustained wave of criticism, parliament made a number of cosmetic changes to the draft but the text signed into law by president Tokayev on May 25, still contains several provisions that clearly violate international human rights standards. For example, only citizens of Kazakhstan can organise or participate in public assemblies. Although the law states that the organiser “notifies” the authorities – at least five working days in advance – of the proposal to hold a public assembly (assembly, rally and picketing), the law contains a de facto pre-approval procedure for holding a public assembly. The authorities enjoy wide-ranging discretionary powers to prohibit the proposed assembly and the law bans public assemblies that have not been notified in accordance with the procedure and even includes an explicit prohibition on spontaneous actions. Finally, the law stipulates that public assemblies are only permissible in a very limited number of specially designated places, except one-person pickets which should also be notified. These restrictions on peaceful gatherings are not necessary in order to pursue any legitimate State interest and are therefore contrary to international law.

We see the authorities increasingly using restrictions on rights and freedoms imposed to tackle Covid-19 to arrest activists and peaceful protesters. This shows that robust protection of the right to assembly is more important than ever in Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, I am afraid the law signed by president Tokayev sounds the death knell of civil liberties ”, stated Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. 
I deplore that the authorities mostly disregarded the arguments of eminent experts on the right to freedom of assembly, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association ”, said Yevgeniy Zhovtis, Director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law” (KIBHR). 

Press contact:
• OMCT: Ms. Iolanda Jaquemet +41 79 539 41 06 / Email : ij@omct.org (Geneva)
• FIDH: Ms. Eva Canan (English, French), +33 6 48 05 91 57 / Email: ecanan@fidh.org (Paris)


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.

[1] See: https://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/kazakhstan/2020/05/d25829/
[2] https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25194&fbclid=IwAR25u69KTzwFBO9iBDJFCJQ9N9j0Ss91jvxcDEpOBDzq-KF7kFqZWJqjjjjj

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