For most Europeans, Kazakhstan still remains an exotic country. The Kazakh authorities put a lot of effort into changing this situation and employ a variety of means. Kazakhstan promotes its image as a democratic state, complying with human rights. However, despite official declarations and international obligations, it fails to respect fundamental human and citizenship rights. Dissident activists, non-governmental organisations and sparse media outlets, independent from the authorities, are oppressed.
NGO ranking lists
- The Economist: Democracy Index 2012: Kazakhstan ranked 143 out of 167 countries
- Reporters without Borders: Freedom of Press Index 2013: Kazakhstan ranked 160 out of 179 countries
- Freedom House: Press Freedom Index 2013: Kazakhstan ranked 182 out of 197 countries
- Transparency International: Corruption Index 2012: Kazakhstan ranked 133 out of 174 countries
The authorities of Kazakhstan do not take up a dialog with society. The degree of restriction of freedom of speech is one of the highest in the world. For this reason, oppressed oppositionists, journalists and civil society activists seek support in Europe.
In 2010, Freedom House published its annual report entitled ‘Freedom in the World 2010’, concerning political and citizenship rights, which concluded that: “[the country] has not noted any progress in the implementation of the reform to which it committed itself in line with its obligations as an OSCE member state.
In terms of media independence, the organisation Reporters without Borders has ranked Kazakhstan 154th in the world. The country placed worse than Russia (142th), but marginally better than Belarus (168th) and China, which came sixth from last (174th). During the presidential election campaign in April 2011 (Nazarbayev received 95.5% of votes) many web pages were temporarily blocked, including Free Europe Radio, BBC and Independent Television K+. In May, the government pressurised Google into only using servers situated in Kazakhstan, which would have led to more stringent censorship of the content of information flowing through the national network. Google subsequently refused and has since removed its local website, opting to exit Kazakhstan.
Extreme oppression was directed towards independent media, in particular: the video portal ‘Stan TV’, the satellite channel: ‘K+’, the news agency ‘Namystan’ and daily newspapers: ‘Respublika’ and ‘Vzglyad’. These were the only media organisations which, having broken the information blockade, imposed by the government, published information regarding the strike in Zhanaozen. They are currently accused of ‘extremism’ and ‘information terrorism’. They may ultimately be banned.
Kazakhstan on the brink of change
Kazakhstan is currently on the brink of change. Public sentiment is becoming increasingly radical, whilst the popularity of extremist groups and doctrines, proclaimed by them, is growing constantly. Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise. The first suicide bombing in the country was reported in 2011.
A series of labour protests was initiated by a strike in Zhanaozen in 2011, attended by thousands of people. The absence of will and ability to solve the conflict peacefully led to tragedy in December 2011. On 16 December, 2011, the police suppressed the strike in which 45 were killed and more than 1000 wounded. Following the crack down, the
authorities put the blame for the tragedy on the opposition and representatives of independent non-governmental organisations.
The resolution, adopted by the European Parliament on 15 March, 2002, led to the release of people who had been arrested in the wave of repression following the Zhanaozen events. Among those released from custody were: Igor Vinyavskiy, the editor-in-chief of the ‘Vzglyad’ newspaper and the theatre director, Bolat Atabayev. This is evident of Nazarbayev’s respect for democratic states, particularly for European Union countries and USA, with whom he would like to continue to conduct business.
The authorities cannot circumvent a dialogue with Europe. It is only through further pressure, exerted by European countries on the Kazakh authorities, that the opposition, and society as a whole, will be granted an opportunity to make decisions about the future of Kazakhstan.