Brussels 18 September 2012. International Partnership for Human Rights, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee and their Central Asian partners have prepared a set of statements for the upcoming OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw. These statements highlight continued threats to fundamental freedoms in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, illustrate broader trends with recent examples and provide recommendations to the authorities of the three Central Asian countries, as well as to other OSCE participating States.
HDIM submission on Kazakhstan by Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, International Partnership for Human Rights and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee:
In the area of freedom of expression, three trends are currently of particular concern in Kazakhstan: 1) the persistent pattern of debilitating defamation lawsuits brought against newspapers and journalists in retaliation for investigative articles, 2) the growing number of physical attacks on journalists who write on corruption and other “sensitive” issues, and 3) the use of vague criminal charges such as charges of “inciting social hatred” against political opposition members and civil society activists who challenge official policies.
Freedom of assembly continues to be restricted with the same tactics as previously: assemblies are banned on arbitrary grounds or only allowed in specifically assigned places, typically located at the outskirts of cities. Participants in unsanctioned protests, in particular those staged by members of opposition-minded groups, are frequently detained and brought to court where they are sentenced to large fines or administrative arrests. In many cases, organizers and participants in anti-government protests are also subjected to pressure prior to scheduled protests.
The new Religion Law that was adopted in Kazakhstan in 2011 requires all religious communities to register or re-register in order to be able to legally gather and carry out joint activities. The registration process has been riddled with lack of transparency and the requirements to have at least 50 members and pass an “expert review” have created problems in particular for co-called non-traditional religious communities wishing to register. The new law has also been used to justify ongoing harassment of non-traditional groups, such as raids on their meetings, intrusive inspections, and fines.
HDIM submission on Turkmenistan by Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, International Partnership for Human Rights and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee:
Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most hostile countries to freedom of expression.
There are no independent media in the country and state media are tightly controlled and used as outlets for ideological propaganda. Even the broadcasts from the June 2012 European football championships, the first major international sport event ever to have been aired live on Turkmen TV, were used to elevate the president. While state-owned newspapers attract limited interest due to their tedious and low-quality content, authorities superficially inflate subscription rates by requiring state employees to subscribe to them at their own cost.
Internet content is monitored and censored, with foreign news sites, social networks, email services, and online forums being singled out for blocking. The popular Turkmen forum ertir.com, whose users increasingly have commented on politically and religiously related issues in the recent period, was inaccessible most of June 2012.
Individuals who openly criticize official Turkmen policies are subject to intimidation and harassment. Also civil society activists in exile have come in for pressure. The website of Austria-based Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, which regularly publishes independent reports and analyzes on developments in Turkmenistan, has been subject to more than six cyber attacks only in 2012.
HDIM submission on Uzbekistan by the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan, International Partnership for Human Rights and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee:
Freedom of expression continues to be seriously restricted in Uzbekistan. State media praise the achievements of the country’s leaders and paint rosy pictures of the situation in the country, while foreign news are censored and presented selectively. Internet use is monitored and websites featuring information that does not please authorities are filtered and blocked.
Independent journalists and human rights defenders continue to be subjected to persecution, including politically motivated legal cases and imprisonment. The recent deadly attack on a human rights defender, which his colleagues suspect was related to his work, has reinforced feelings of vulnerability within the country’s civil society community.
Small-scale peaceful pickets, which are staged by civil society activists and other citizens to demand respect for fundamental rights and freedoms are broken up by police and participants are intimidated, detained and penalized through fines and administrative arrests.
The repressive campaign against Muslims who practice their faith outside strict state controls continues, characterized by a persistent pattern of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and torture. The UN Committee against Torture recently concluded that the 2011 extradition of a group of independent Muslims from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan violated the non-refoulement ban given the known risk of torture and other gross human rights violations facing individuals who practice their faith outside the official framework in this country.
The OSCE HDIM will take place on 24 September – 5 October 2012. A side-event on fundamental freedoms in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will be organized by the Netherlands Helsinki Committee in cooperation with International Partnership for Human Rights and their Central Asian partners on 25 September.