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MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION on freedom of expression in Kazakhstan

8.3.2016 - (2016/2607(RSP))

with request for inclusion in the agenda for a debate on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law
pursuant to Rule 135 of the Rules of Procedure

Lola Sánchez Caldentey, Tania González Peñas, Miguel Urbán Crespo, Estefanía Torres Martínez, Xabier Benito Ziluaga, Malin Björk, Marie-Christine Vergiat, Merja Kyllönen, Kostas Chrysogonos, Stelios Kouloglou, Patrick Le Hyaric on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group

See also joint motion for a resolution RC-B8-0337/2016

Postup : 2016/2607(RSP)
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European Parliament resolution on freedom of expression in Kazakhstan


The European Parliament,

-  having regard to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, in particular to its Article 19, on freedom opinion and expression,

-  having regard to Article 21 of the Treaty of the European Union

-  having regard to Article 208 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

-  having regard to the European Consensus on Development of December 2005,

-  having regard to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement EU - Kazakhstan of 1999,

-  having regard to the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of energy between the EU and Kazakhstan of 2006,

-  having regard to the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of transport between the EU and Kazakhstan of 2009,

-  having regard to EU and Central Asia strategy for a new partnership of 2007,

-  having regard to the report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association on Kazakhstan of June 2015,

-  having regard to its previous resolutions on Kazakhstan,

-  having regard to Rule 135 of its Rules of Procedure,

A.   whereas according to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers; whereas human Rights are universal, inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated; whereas development is a right;

B.  whereas Article 21 of the Treaty of the European Union states that the Union's action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law; whereas Article 208 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union reaffirms that the Union must take account of the objective of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries;

C.  whereas Kazakhstan is an upper-middle-income country with per capita GDP of nearly US$13,000 in 2013; whereas Kazakhstan is the post-soviet non-European country which has a higher per capita GDP and higher Human Development Index mainly due to its huge oil reserves; whereas inequality reminds high in Kazakhstan due to poor redistribution of wealth and resources and poor performance on labour standards; whereas corruption and the pervasive link between business and politics are strong in Kazakhstan;

D.   whereas Kazakhstan is considered by the EU as a strategic country for their geopolitical and economic interests;

E.  whereas the EU has a long-standing relations with Kazakhstan which are governed by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement of 1999, the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of energy of 2006 and the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of transport of 2009; whereas, according to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement , the respect for democracy, principles of international law and human rights as defined in particular in the United Nations Charter, the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, underpin the internal and external policies of the Parties and constitute an essential element of partnership and of this Agreement;

F.  whereas Kazakhstan receives development aid from the EU through the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI); whereas development cooperation with Kazakhstan focuses on strengthening the capacity of regional and local government, supporting reform of the justice sector and on improving the capacity of the public sector to introduce social and economic reforms; whereas the EU and Kazakhstan also cooperate in the framework of a regional approach, which includes all 5 Central Asian republics: the EU and Central Asia strategy for a new partnership of 2007 which is now under review;

G.  whereas Kazakhstan has long limited key civil and political rights, such as freedom of assembly, expression and religion; whereas over the last years there has been a decline in respect for fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression;

H.  whereas the human rights situation in that country has deteriorated further since the brutal police repression of peaceful demonstrators and oil workers, their families and supporters in Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011, which, according to official figures, left 15 people dead and over 100 injured; whereas the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, who visited Kazakhstan in January and August 2015 called on the authorities to allow an international investigation into the use of lethal force against protesters in Zhanaozen in 2011, and into reports of torture and other ill-treatment of those detained following the protests;

I.  whereas during recent years several opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and civil-society actors have been subjected to harassment and criminal prosecution, leading in several cases to long prison sentences, often in solitary confinement and without access to adequate medical care and treatment;

J.  whereas the operating climate for the media remained restricted, and media outlets were forcibly closed or prevented from operating on administrative grounds or because they were accused of being a threat to national security; whereas journalists continued to face harassment and intimidation; whereas independent media outlets had difficulty generating advertising revenue, as businesses feared reprisals from the authorities if they placed advertisements in these publications.

K.  whereas on 5 February 2016 Kazakhstan authorities detained human rights defender Mr Ermek Narymbaev -and independent human rights defender and blogger who has been has been actively involved in exposing financial fraud carried out by a number of banks in Kazakhstan and is outspoken about the government's failure to protect human rights in the State- began his 19th day on hunger strike in protest against his conviction on 22 January 2016, under Article 174 part 1 of the Criminal Code for 'incitement to social, class, clan, national, tribal and religious hatred'; whereas he was convicted in connection with a message he had posted on his Facebook page, and sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment, with forfeiture of his right to engage in any activities with public associations in the next 5 years; whereas Ermek Narymbaev's health condition is currently poor;

L.  whereas in Kazakhstan a new Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Code of Administrative Offences came into force at the beginning of 2015; whereas the UN Special Rapporteur expressed concern that the criminalization of incitement of discord in the Criminal Code could be used to criminalize the activities of political parties and trade unions;

M.  whereas early presidential elections were held unexpectedly in April 2015 in where President Nazarbayev was re-elected to a fifth term in office, winning 97.7% of the vote; whereas OSCE election monitors reported that the elections lacked credible opposition;

N.  whereas in October 2015 legal amendments affecting NGOs’ access to funding were passed by Parliament; whereas these will lead to the creation of a central operator to administer and distribute all state and non-state grants to NGOs, including foreign funding, for projects and activities that comply with a vaguely worded list of issues approved by the government; whereas Failure to supply accurate information for the operator’s centralized database could lead to fines or a temporary ban on activities; whereas Civil society activists were concerned that this new law would limit NGOs’ access to foreign funding and constrain their activities;

O.  whereas freedom of peaceful assembly remained heavily restricted in Kazakhstan; whereas penalties of up to 75 days’ administrative detention were introduced for violations of the rules on holding assemblies, promotion, of a protest, including via social media, was effectively criminalized; whereas Kazakhstan authorities use preventive detention to stop peaceful protests from going ahead; whereas in January 2015 journalists were arrested on their way to a protest in Almaty in support of Adam Bol;

P.  whereas in June 2015 Kazakhstan adopted a new restrictive law on trade unions despite repeated calls by independent unions to amend the draft to bring it in line with international human and labor rights standards, including ILO core standards; whereas provisions in the new criminal code further limit workers’ right to strike; whereas one such provision is the introduction of criminal sanctions for calling on workers to continue a strike declared illegal by courts; whereas other legislation governing the organization, financing, and collective bargaining rights of trade unions remain restrictive; whereas in some instances, authorities interfered in independent trade union activity;

Q.  whereas according to ILGA, LGTBI persons in Kazakhstan face legal challenges and discrimination not experienced by non-LGBT residents; whereas both male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in Kazakhstan, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex married couples;

1.   Reiterates its deep concerns on the dramatic and continuously deteriorating situation of human rights in Kazakhstan, including freedom of expression and labor and social right;

2.  Condemns the ongoing clamp down against the media and freedom of expression, and calls on the government of Kazakhstan to completely lift its control over the electronic and printed media;

3.  Insists that the independence of journalists and bloggers must be safeguarded and that their right to operate without fear of harassment or intimidation by state forces must be guaranteed; and calls on the authorities Kazakhstan to revoke the new media policy and to respect fundamental democratic and human rights as an integral part of a democratic society;

4.  Expresses its strong criticism about the fact that Kazakhstan authorities continue to charge opposition activists with the vague and overbroad charge of “inciting social, national, clan, racial, class, or religious discord,” enshrined in Kazakhstan's Criminal Code; is appalled that maximum sentences have increased from 12 years in prison to 20 and urges the Kazakhstan authorities to revoke Article 174 of the Criminal Code and to bring its Criminal Code in line with its international human rights obligations;

5.  Condemns the ongoing crackdown against parties and organisations of the opposition as well as the crackdown against independent trade unions and their leaders and calls on the authorities to abide by the principles and commitments guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, in order to allow political and worker activists to exercise their democratic rights;

6.  Calls on the government of Kazakhstan to remove without further delay all politically motivated obstacles that hinder political parties, organisations, civil society organisations and independent trade unions from registering and demands that they can operate without fear of intimidation and repression;

7.  Calls on the Kazakhstan authorities to urgently ensure the protection of innocent people under such an assault against freedom of expression; ensuring and protecting the aforementioned rights and guarantee the integrity of those facing threats for exercising those rights;

8.  Is deeply worried on the recent restrictive legislative reforms; calls on the government of Kazakhstan to remove without further delay all politically motivated obstacles that hinder political parties, organisations, civil society organisations and independent trade unions from registering and demands that they can operate without fear of intimidation and repression;

9.  Urges the Kazakhstan authorities to revoke the restrictive amendments to the administrative and labour code; Urges Kazakhstan to respect the rights of workers to form independent trade unions and to respect and adhere to ILO core conventions, including the ones which defend the right to strike and collective bargaining; call, in this regard, on the European Commission the European Council and the Member States to introduce a legislative proposal for binding and enforceable mechanisms on Corporate Social Responsibility for EU based companies operating in third countries in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises;

10.   Calls for the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry that can truly investigate the crimes occurred in Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011, end impunity and bring the perpetrators to justice;

11.  Calls for the guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Kazakhstan are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions;

12.  Believes that Ermek Narymbaev has been targeted solely as a result of his legitimate human rights work; calls for his iimmediately release and quash the conviction against; calls for the provision of all necessary medical treatment for Ermek Narymbaev while he is in prison;

13.  Urges the Kazakhstan authorities to equally release, without further delay, all other prisoners convicted on political grounds, including Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the opposition party ALGA, Vadim Kuramshin, human rights defender, prison rights campaigner and winner of the Ludovic Trarieux Human Rights Price as well as poet and journalist Aron Atabek, imprisoned since 2007 and to end politically motivated arrests carried out on the vague criminal charge of 'inciting social discord';

14.  Is worried about the disrespect and violation of prisoners' rights in Kazakhstan's prison system; is concerned about the physical and mental well-being of the above mentioned prisoners, convicted on political grounds and demands that they receive immediate access to needed medical treatment and are allowed regular visits, including by family members, legal representatives, representatives of human rights and prisoners' rights organisations; strongly encourages the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to visit Kazakahstan prisoners, including those mentioned above and to publish his findings;

15.  Is particularly concerned about the dramatic levels of discrimination of LGTBI people in Kazakhstan;

16.  Deplores the increasing tendency of EU development policy to follow geopolitical, security and private profit interest; recalls to protect the development focus and nature of ODA´s including a transparent and accountable reporting system; recalls on ODA unique role on achieving effective development results; calls EU aid to be aligned with internationally agreed development effectiveness principles, be human rights-centred, promote gender equality and women empowerment and focus on tackling the root problems of inequality and poverty in order to achieve the recently approved Sustainable Development Goals;

17.  Notes the weaknesses of Central Asia countries political system and the lack of people's participation in politics; Draws attention to the growing inequalities among the people in spite of the huge existing natural resources reserves;

18.  Underlines the need of having a EU-Central Asia strategy not based on geostrategic interests but designed, implemented and monitored in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality and women empowerment, accordingly to the wills of local civil society organisations, including women rights organisations, trade unions and in alignment with national development objectives;

19.   Calls on the Kazakhstan authorities to effectively commit to the achievement of the recently internationally adopted sustainable Development Goals, especially in order to reduce inequalities and ensure gender equality and women rights including access to free and save abortion services;

20.  Calls on the High Representative of the European Union, and the EU External Action Service to raise these concerns with the Kazakh authorities and, in line with The Cooperation Agreement between the European Community and Kazakhstan Article 2, to take all the necessary diplomatic measure to effectively enhance Human Rights respect by Kazakhstan's authorities; calls on the EU delegation in Astana to play a more pro- active role in monitoring the situation, including the sending of representatives to observe trials against opposition activists and human rights defenders and to visit them in prison and to collaborate more closely with international human rights and civil society groups and to report back to the European Parliament on a regular basis;

21.   Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the European External Action Service, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, the governments and parliaments of the Member States, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the UN Human Rights Council, and the Government and Parliament of Kazakhstan.