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PACE Assembly: all forms of cooperation with Kazakhstan must be reconsidered in response to its rigged presidential election and mass arrests

The Summer session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe took place between June 24 and June 28, in Strasbourg.

On this occasion, 32 members from various national delegations (eg. Italy, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Portugal and others) signed the Written Declaration no. 682, named Co-operation with Kazakhstan must be reconsidered in response to its rigged presidential election and mass arrests. The declaration was initiated and tabled by Italian Senator Roberto Rampi.

The declaration takes note of the events that immediately followed the snap presidential election in Kazakhstan: the victory of Nazarbayev’s protege Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was welcomed with peaceful protests and demonstrations against the rigged nature of the whole electoral process and followed by an unprecedented wave of mass arrests. In this context, PACE members focused on the violent treatment the protesters were subdued to: “As admitted by the authorities, at least 4 000 protesters were detained during protests against the undemocratic presidential election in Kazakhstan. Numerous protesters, as documented in video footage, were severely beaten by the police.”

According to the preliminary statement published by OSCE on June 10 and reiterated in the written declaration, there was potential for Kazakhstan’s early presidential election to reform the country, but the visible lack of regard for fundamental rights and voting irregularities registered before and on election day showed no respect for democratic standards. The OSCE in Europe stated: “the election was unfair and marred by violations of fundamental freedoms”.

PACE MPs made reference to the concerns expressed by the UN Human Rights Office regarding the significant scale of arrests and convictions for peaceful expression of political opinion and dissent. Mr Ryszard Komenda, Head of the UN Human Rights Office for Central Asia, said: “This is an apparent contradiction with Kazakhstan’s obligations under international human rights law (…) I urge Kazakhstan to fulfil its legal obligations to respect and protect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression, and ensure the right to meaningful political participation”.

PACE members pointed out the cases of human rights defenders Zhanbota Alzhanova, Dana Zhanay, Alimzhan Izbassarov, Daniyar Khassenov and Maxat Mukarov, signatories of an open letter addressed to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, who have been recently persecuted and stopped from leaving the country. Daniyar Khassenov was also invited to speak in a side-event at PACE of Tuesday 25th, but couldn’t reach Strasbourg due to a travel ban imposed by Kazakhstani authorities.

An additional focus was put on the cases of five mothers of minor children who were also detained, and are now facing extremist charges: Oksana Shevchuk, Zhazira Demeuova, Gulzipa Dzhaukerova, Akmaral Kerimbayeva and Gulmira Kalykova, all currently under house arrest. The case of Serik Zhakhin was also mentioned: the activist was arrested for dissemination of materials related to the peaceful opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan.

The written declaration takes also into account to the numerous total internet blockages registered in Kazakhstan from early May 2019, as noticed with concern by the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Ní Aoláin. Since December 2016, in Kazakhstan, internet blockages have occurred quite often, as they represent a form of retaliation against representatives of the opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) which organises protests and transfers information through social media platforms and messaging apps as Facebook, Instagram and Telegram.

The overall objective of the Written Declaration no. 682 is “to call for the implementation of the recommendations of the Written Declaration no. 675”, to call for the release of political prisoners and for the implementation of the recommendations expressed by the United Nations and the European Parliament, and “to impose personal sanctions upon those accountable for the aforementioned human rights violations and electoral fraud in the country”.

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