West Kazakstan City Limits Demos Ahead of Vote

Authorities in Uralsk impose tight regulations on public gatherings.

West Kazakstan City Limits Demos Ahead of Vote

Authorities in Uralsk impose tight regulations on public gatherings.

As Kazakstan’s presidential election draws near, the mayor of Uralsk in the west of the country has imposed restrictions on public meetings, which must now be held in a designated location well away from the city centre.

Rights activists say the regulations go against the state’s obligation to allow freedom of assembly.

The mayoral decree, which came into force on March 10, a day after it was approved by Uralsk city council, means that rallies and demonstrations will be confined to a public park ten kilometres away from the centre of town.

The document cites a 1995 law which requires public meetings to conform to safety and environmental rules and not to obstruct traffic. In effect, it formalises the existing practice of ensuring that outdoor gatherings, particularly those led by opposition or rights groups, take place some way away from the city centre.

The decision comes on top of other rules that require permission from the local authorities before a public meeting can be held. If this is not forthcoming, the event in question will be deemed illegal if it goes ahead, and organisers can face a fine or a short period of detention.

It used to be extremely difficult to get permission for a demonstration in central parts of Uralsk, but now even that small hope has gone.

Although more than 20 hopefuls have put their names down as candidates for the April 3 ballot, there is little doubt that Kazakstan ‘s first and only president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, will be awarded a landslide victory when the results are announced.

Kazakstan’s opposition parties are boycotting the ballot, which was called so suddenly that it left them no time to prepare. Nazarbaev announced the snap election in February, in place of a widely criticised plan for a nationwide referendum that would have extended his current term in office until 2020.

Human rights activists and opposition party representatives in Uralsk accused the city authorities of clamping down on dissent.

“Of course we are against it,” Anargul Abenova, head of the local branch of the opposition Alga party.

Alga, whose status as a party is not recognised by the government, was the first to use the park outside town after the mayor issued his decree. The March 13 demonstration, in support of an election boycott, was attended by about 50 people.

Oxana Ternovskaya, head of the regional branch of the opposition Communist Party, predicted that the new rules would be applied unevenly, so that approved parties like Nazarbaev’s Nur Otan could meet wherever they wanted while government opponents would be subject to rigid controls.

“At a time when the president is talking about democratic reforms, and given that the constitution guarantees our freedoms, people are being herded into remote parks,” she added.

Pavel Kochetkov, head of the local branch of the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, argues that the mayor’s decree is legally questionable since decisions of this kind are supposed to be taken by elected bodies, not an appointed official.

“The [city] administration doesn’t have a right to issue such decrees. Moreover, the document contradicts international agreements on civil and political rights which Kazakstan has ratified and which clearly state that all citizens have a right to express their view wherever they want,” Kochetkov said.

In an interview for IWPR, Mayor Samigolla Urazov denied that the decree was unconstitutional. He insisted the regulation applied to all organisations and would be applied without discrimination.

“It’s for all the parties,” he said. “Everyone is equal before the law.”

Sanat Urnaliev is a journalist in Kazakstan.

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting,

Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

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