Kazakhstan adopts a new law on rallies encouraging pluralism

The Mazhilis – the lower house of the Kazakh parliament in the capital Nur-Sultan. [Georgi Gotev]

Kazakhstan adopted the new law on peaceful assemblies, continuing its path of “controlled democratisation” with more liberal legislation that analysts said is helping to develop strong multi-party democracy.

The Deputies of the Mazhilis – the lower house of the Kazakh parliament – adopted a bill titled “On the procedure for organising and holding peaceful assemblies in Kazakhstan”, as well as an accompanying draft law on the organisation and holding of peaceful assemblies.

The bill which was signed by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on 25 May has now legal force and will become, as some independent experts have stated, a new step towards the democratisation of the land-locked Central Asian country.

This bill was developed upon the initiative of Tokayev, who promoted the need for liberalisation of the legislation on peaceful assemblies and the implementation of the concept of a “state that listens” to its citizens.

Kazakhstan’s new president vows to pursue controlled democratisation

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The previous law was adopted back in 1995 and, according to domestic experts and international observers, has long required a conceptual review.  In accordance with it, the main role in establishing the rules for holding peaceful assemblies was assigned to maslihats (local executive bodies), which led to varied legal regulations in different regions of the country.

With the declaration of Independence and the UN accession of the country, Kazakhstan has undertaken a number of obligations on the freedom of assembly by ratifying international agreements, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other documents.

During the consideration of the legislation, hearings were held in a number of cities across the country, involving the general public, representatives of civil society and the media. A separate presentation of the legislation was held for international organizations and diplomatic missions.

During the discussion of the legislation in the Mazhilis, a round-table was held with representatives of human rights and international organisations and online participation of more than 100 non-governmental organizations in the country’s regions.

The Mazhilis held two votes over the legislation, which was also discussed at Senate meetings. At each stage, a number of amendments were made to the draft law.

A key principle of the new law is the presumption in favour of holding public gatherings, in line with the basic principles of OSCE.  This means that peaceful assemblies should go ahead unless there are justified reasons for limiting or prohibiting them.

Designated areas

Before the adoption of the new law, places authorized for assembly by local executive bodies were usually located on the outskirts of the cities and towns. The new law establishes that peaceful assemblies, with the exception of picketing, will be held in central locations. As Tokayev said, these should be held “in the central parts” and “not on the outskirts of cities”.

Consequently, there will be at least 12 designated places in the capital, at least 24 in the largest city, Almaty, at least 12 in Shymkent, and at least six in Karaganda.

“Kazakhstan adopted the British idea of having special venues for rallies – the idea of ​​Hyde Park”, said Dmitry Zhuravlev, director-general of the Institute of Regional Problems, commenting on the new law.

Pickets, on the other hand, can be held in any location or facility, including the buildings of central government bodies or local executive bodies, with the exception of prohibited places that are clearly prescribed by law.

Kirill Petrov, a political scientist and head of the analytical department of Minchenko Consulting, called the new law a continuation by Tokayev of the work of his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

“This is a step towards the development of a highly competitive multi-party system, and the continuation of the political development of the republic in the direction of collegial management, which is a requirement of our times”, Petrov said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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