Following a debate during the Plenary session of March 14, the European Parliament voted on a resolution taking stock of the human rights situation in Kazakhstan, urging national authorities to “put an end to human rights abuses and all forms of political repression” and condemning the ban on the opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK).
Prior to the approval of this resolution, several incidents indicating violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms had already been reported by over 500 Kazakhstani citizens in an appeal addressed to both the European Parliament and the European Commission in January 2019.
While the appeal mentions several cases of human rights violations, the resolution falls short of mentioning several crucial issues. As MEP Julie Ward mentioned during the debate: “There are many worrying cases inKazakhstan: Ablovas Dzhumayev and his wife Aigul Akberdiyeva, a mother of four, who is being persecuted in the same case. I am disappointed that the resolution does not include her name, as her case is still pending.” The resolution also fails to mention other incidents, such as the latest demonstrations of social discontent, the expulsion of international observers and the dismissal of the Aktau City Court judge.
The European Parliament urged Kazakhstani authorities to put a stop to “all forms of arbitrary detention, reprisals and harassment against human rights activists, civil society organisations and political opposition movements, including against actual or perceived supporters of DCK”. In this context, the cases of civil activist Almat Zhumagulov, poet Kenzhebek Abishev and bloggers Ablovas Dzhumayev and Aset Abishev, all sentenced to several years of prison on extremism charges for expressing dissent and criticising the authorities, were specifically mentioned.
The resolution takes into account the increased number of political prisoners in Kazakhstan, and the harsh restrictions applied to freedom of expression and association which allow for the imprisonment of activists and peaceful protesters for taking a stance and asking for better living conditions. On this specific issue, MEPs ask for the “full rehabilitation and immediate release of all activists and political prisoners currently in jail, in particular Mukhtar Dzhakishev, Maks Bokayev, Iskander Yerimbetov, Aron Atabek, Sanat Bukenov, Makhambet Abzhan and Saken Tulbayev, as well as for the lifting of the restrictions placed on the movements of others”.
The text of the resolution also recalls Kazakhstan’s failure to comply with its international obligations towards the EU, the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, and urges the authorities “to abide by their international obligations and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms”. More specifically, the EP “calls for protection for victims of torture […]; urges the government of Kazakhstan to fulfil its pledges of zero tolerance for torture and to ensure that allegations of torture, including those made in the context of the Zhanaozen events, are fully investigated”.
Within the same context, the EP also “urges the (Kazakhstani) government to review the case of Iskander Yerimbetov in light of the conclusions of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and to ensure that the allegations of torture are duly investigated”; it is worth remembering that the case of Iskander Yerimbetov is a very sensitive one, as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that “his arrest and detention were arbitrary, called for his release, and expressed concern at the allegations of torture during his pre-trial detention”.
It is important to mention that the European Parliament encourages all EU institutions, in particular the European External Action Service (EEAS), to “monitor closely developments in Kazakhstan, to raise concerns with the Kazakh authorities where necessary, to offer assistance, and to report regularly to Parliament”, while also urging the EEAS to “proactively engage in trial observation missions, in order to monitor politically sensitive trials and politically motivated prosecutions and verify that the right to a fair trial applies to all”; the EP also calls on the EU Delegation in Astana to keep playing “an active role in monitoring the situation and to raise the issue of freedom of expression in all relevant bilateral meetings”.
This resolution represents the result of a joint effort by Kazakhstani activists, human rights defenders, lawyers and international organisations. Over recent years, the Open Dialogue Foundation has carried out several international advocacy campaigns aimed at raising awareness of the struggles being experienced by civil society in Kazakhstan. In November 2018, the ODF presented a collective complaint on behalf of 129 Kazakhstani citizens who are under pressure and being prosecuted because of their support for the opposition or for having participated in peaceful protests, social media activity, or who have fallen victim to arbitrary detention, criminal prosecution, torture, ill-treatment, threats and unjustified surveillance.
We express our gratitude towards all MEPs who have supported our advocacy efforts, allowing them to become a concrete step forward, while bearing in mind that there is still a long way to go towards a final end to human rights abuses and all forms of political repression in Kazakhstan.
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- Read the text of the resolution: here