My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have raised this issue with the Kazakhstan Foreign Minister in recent weeks. Our embassy in Astana, working closely with EU and other like-minded missions, closely evaluates political developments in Kazakhstan. Our embassy has also supported a project run by Freedom House and the Kazakhstan Coalition of non-governmental organisations to monitor independently Kazakhstan's performance against its Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) commitments, including in respect of elections, political parties, media, local self-governance, and freedoms of assembly and conscience. During the project, the Coalition provided regular briefings to others in the international community to allow wider monitoring. The commitments made by Kazakhstan prior to the chairmanship were in line with the international standards to which it had already signed up as a partner state of the OSCE. These commitments will continue to be monitored after Kazakhstan's year as chair comes to an end.
Kazakhstan has taken some limited steps forward, but there have been developments, for example in limiting media freedom, that have caused concern. We have stressed to the Kazakhs the need to live up to the obligations that relate to both its membership and chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). On 14 January 2010, President Nazarbayev pledged to “pursue further political liberalisation”. This was underlined by Kazakh Foreign Minister Saudabayev when he told my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in January that Kazakhstan would remain committed to the founding principles of the OSCE. We look forward to that being the case. We will continue to support Kazakhstan's efforts towards meeting their OSCE commitments, and the challenges they face as chair.
The Kazakhs have made some progress in the field of human rights, but further improvements are needed, as they themselves have recognised. Recent positive reforms include December 2009 legislation on domestic violence and gender equality and a reduction in the number of crimes carrying the death penalty. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are active and played a key role in developing Kazakhstan’s National Human Rights Action Plan last year (the formation of which was supported by the UK). This Action Plan includes a comprehensive set of recommendations across the human rights spectrum, many with specific deadlines. But concerns remain, including in respect of arbitrary arrest and detention, the right to a fair trial and freedoms of expression, assembly and of the media, and in specific cases such as Evgeny Zhovtis and Ramazan Yesergepov. There is also scope for improvements in the legislation on elections, political parties and local government enacted in February 2009.
February 2009 legislation introduced some improvements with regard to the media situation in Kazakhstan, including abolition of the registration requirement for television and radio outlets. However, libel remains a criminal offence in Kazakhstan and related laws are used against opposition media. In December 2009, a new privacy law was passed, which media NGOs state will place further constraints on investigative journalism.
We are pleased that a restrictive law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations was rejected by Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Council last year. We are concerned however that non-traditional religious groups including Jehovah’s Witnesses, evangelical Christians and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness have experienced difficulties.
The internet law, introduced in July 2009, has been strongly criticised both by the EU and by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative for Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, as not being in line with international standards or OSCE commitments. We most recently encouraged the Kazakhs to bring this law into line with international standards during a meeting in London with Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister on 29 January 2010.
Kazakhstan continues to participate in the human rights dialogues established under the EU’s Central Asia Strategy, which supports good governance, the rule of law and human rights and to which the UK contributes views. We encouraged Kazakhstan to co-operate closely with the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review earlier this year and will continue to emphasise the importance of a thorough response to the recommendations raised. The UK and our international partners will continue to raise issues of concern with the Kazakh authorities and urge them to press ahead with reforms, many of which they themselves have identified as necessary.