Freedom of Speech and Civil Society under Pressure in Kazakhstan

Chairwoman Hautala addressed on 8th of February a Conference ‘Kazakhstan: freedom of media and civil society’ organised by MEP Andrzej Grzyb, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights. In her opening remarks Ms Hautala emphasised the need for the EU to tackle human rights its cooperation with all countries with more seriousness. [:]Ms Hautala recalled that the European Parliament has more power since the coming into force of the Treaty of Lisbon and can therefore inject more human rights awareness into the cooperation of the EU with other countries. For the sake of securing business with oppressive regimes, EU has remained silent over their human rights abuses. Indeed, as evidenced by the recent events in Belarus, Tunisia and Egypt, human rights have rested low on the EU list of priorities. EU policy towards Kazakhstan has suffered of exactly this kind of double standards, she noted.

One of the key speakers of the seminar, Mr Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the Party ‘Algan’, presented problems with elections, explaining difficulties with legislative norms in particular. Several editors and journalists took turns to explain severe restrictions placed on remaining independent media and other news outlets. Ways to shut down any form of reporting have multiplied and many thus face court suits over wide range of charges, most often of tax evasion, or various regulatory but criminally sanctioned prohibitions. TV and radio has been hit in particular by legislative acts that potentially place all control over broadcasting in hands of authorities. The issue of political prisoners is closely related to a freedom of speech and media and was therefore given due attention in the Conference. It is imperative that all political prisoners be freed and criminal sanctioning of freedom of speech be seized immediately, the speakers emphasised.

Guests received also a testimony from a torture victim in Kazakhstan. This pervasive problem has received international attention, also in the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, under Chairing of Ms Heidi Hautala.

The Conference was in agreement over the fact that EU must develop clearer policy towards its partner countries and further discussion on this regard was therefore hoped for.