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KAZAKHSTAN: Jailings under Administrative Code continue as new Codes signed

Kazakhstan has long employed its Administrative and Criminal Codes to restrict and punish religious freedom (most notably and recently, in the case of Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev (B.K.), who was imprisoned on charges of allegedly harming a congregant’s health). Recently, Kazakh President Nazarbayev signed into law new Administrative and Criminal Codes, amidst outcry from the local human rights community for the way these Codes violate Kazakhstan’s Constitution and international obligations to religious freedom. One activist noted that the Codes are “like a baton, to use as a threat against those the state does not like.”

By Felix Corley and Mushfig Bayram

7/21/2014 Kazakhstan (Forum 18) – [Recent] administrative cases [against religious freedom] continue as President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law a new Code of Administrative Offences, which mostly takes effect from 1 January 2015…

President Nazarbayev has also signed into law the new Criminal Code on 3 July and it was officially published on 9 July. The text of the Code has been condemned by human rights defenders. It has been used comparatively rarely to punish people exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, but is currently being used in the cases of retired Presbyterian Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev and atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov…

However, the Administrative Code is frequently used against people exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief… Forum 18 has noted more than 150 known administrative fines in 2013 and more than 40 in the first 10 weeks of 2014 alone…

President Nazarbayev’s decision to sign the new Codes came despite urgent pleas against his decision from local human rights defenders. This included a last-ditch appeal from 172 groups and individuals, published on the website of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law on 19 June.

Among other concerns, the human rights defenders note that other Administrative Code punishments for those exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief “violate the principle of justice.” They add that they also violate Article 22 of Kazakhstan’s Constitution, which declares that “Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience.” Article 39 of the Constitution specifies that “in no circumstances can the rights and freedoms specified in… Article 22 be subjected to restrictions.”

Human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis, of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, noted to Forum 18 on 21 July that “unfortunately, Kazakhstan continues to flagrantly violate the freedom of religion or belief guaranteed for its citizens by its Constitution and its international human rights obligations.”

Zhovtis… described the Codes as being “like a baton, to use as a threat against those the state does not like,” noting that “the situation in Kazakhstan of human rights in general and freedom of religion or belief in particular is getting worse”.

As is usual with Kazakh law (including the new Criminal Code) many of the Administrative Code’s “offences” are not precisely defined leaving much room for arbitrary official actions…

The Criminal Implementation Code governs conditions for those serving criminal sentences, including the extent to which they are or are not allowed to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief while imprisoned.

Forum 18 notes that the Criminal Implementation Code’s restrictions on exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief in prisons mirror restrictions on exercising this human right throughout Kazakhstan.

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