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Kazak NGO Funding Concerns

Authorities make changes to how groups are funded, putting pressure on those backed with money from overseas.
By Alim Bekenov

Non-governmental organisations in Kazakstan are facing a number of changes in how they are allowed to operate, raising concerns of increased state pressure.

A new law on funding and a further piece of draft legislation designed to uncover “revolutionary” activity in the third sector are likely to have a significant impact on how foreign-funded civil society groups function in the former Soviet republic.

Analysts believe that these moves are related to the events in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan in late March, where NGOs were accused of involvement in the so-called Tulip revolution which led to the downfall of its president, Askar Akaev.

As a result, many Kazak deputies have become increasingly vocal in their suspicion of the work of NGOs – especially those with foreign funding.

Pro-government deputy Erasyl Abylkasymov recently demanded that the authorities inspect all such organisations to establish whether they had a “pro-revolution” agenda.

The Kazak general prosecutor’s office has since launched inspections of more than 30 NGOs – including IWPR, Internews-Kazakstan, freedom of speech group Adil Soz and the Kazak International Bureau for Human Rights and the Observance of Law.

The bureau for human rights has objected to the move, which it described as politically motivated.

“We see this as an act of intimidation, and not just of our and other organisations, but of all of Kazak civil society,” it said in a statement.

“The actions of the prosecutor’s office and the financial police are clearly political, and their goals and methods will throw our country either into a totalitarian Soviet past or to an [isolationist] Turkmen present.”

But on April 20, a group of parliamentarians - Abylkasymov, Valery Kotovich, Mikhail Troshikhin, Sergei Boyarkin and Nurlan Itemgenov - initiated a draft law, which is designed to restrict the activities of international or foreign organisations within Kazakstan.

If passed, the legislation will prevent local branches of international NGOs from being set up “to express the political will of citizens or different political groups”.

Such branches will be banned from taking part in “unsanctioned gatherings”, marches or demonstrations or any action, which could have “undesirable consequences” for Kazakstan.

The deputies have also explored the option of shutting NGOs down altogether, but their plans - for closure orders of three to six months to be issued to offending groups following a court order - were rejected by parliament.

Kotovich has denied that they were looking to close NGOs, saying the deputies were merely trying to increase “control in our legislation over the main areas of activity of foreign and national NGOs”.

The authorities have recently introduced another new law relating to NGOs, which would lead to several receiving state funding.

There are around 5,000 non-governmental organisations in Kazakstan, employing more than 200,000 people. Aside from opposition and civil society groups, a large number specialise in tackling economic and social issues such as unemployment, poverty and drug addiction among teenagers.

But many of these – particularly those outside the main city Almaty – find it difficult to attract foreign backing.

Such NGOs have welcomed news of the new law - in spite of fears that it could lead to a loss of political independence.

Since 2003, some 72,500 US dollars a year have been made available by the state to those NGOs deemed to provide the most socially significant projects. But six times that amount has been allocated for 2005, and that figure is expected to grow after the new legislation - the social plan law - was passed into law on April 13.

Analysts believe that many Kazak NGOs will now be forced to rely on state funding.

But Valentina Siryukova, president of the Confederation of Non-governmental Organisations of Kazakstan, told IWPR that they had nothing to fear, although she admitted that the authorities would closely monitor the expenditure of funds.

Some organisations are concerned that their sector may now fall prey to state influence.

Internews-Kazakstan lawyer Sergei Vlasenko said, “NGOs are concerned that the [social plan] law will lead the authorities to divide NGOs into ‘their own’ and ‘outsiders’, and only provide aid to [those] which show loyalty [them].”

Culture Minister Esetjan Kosubaev, however, insisted that with the new legislation NGOs would continue to be independent of the state.

“We are only trying to establish civilised relations between the state and the non-governmental sector, which from year to year plays an increasingly important role in the social and political life of the country,” he said.

Alim Bekenov is the pseudonym of an IWPR correspondent in Astana

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