Rights Groups In Kazakhstan Hit With Fines, Face Pressure Amid Crackdown

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Yevgeny Zhovtis, the head of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule Of Law, said that "if the decision is politically motivated there is not much hope for us."

The operations at two human rights organizations in Kazakhstan have been suspended and they may face closure amid a crackdown on rights groups in the Central Asian state.

The head of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule Of Law (KMBPCh), Yevgeny Zhovtis, told RFE/RL that tax officials in Almaty ruled on January 25 to suspend the group’s activities for three months and ordered it to pay 2 million tenges ($4,700) in fines, citing “financial irregularities.”

According to Zhovtis, the officials did not give a detailed explanation for the action.

“We will appeal the decision in court, but if the decision is politically motivated there is not much hope for us,” Zhovtis said.

Amangeldy Shormanbekov, chief of another group, the International Rights Initiative, told RFE/RL that tax authorities in Almaty had also suspended his organization’s activities for three months and ordered it to pay the same fine as KMBPCh.

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“This is a political order, persecution. It looks like the authorities do not want us to have links with the UN, OSCE, the European Union member states. They want to keep our mouths’ shut so that nobody in the country can talk to international structures,” Shormanbekov said, adding that his organization faced a full shutdown if the decision is upheld in court.

The two groups are the latest of more than a dozen of nongovernmental organizations that have faced inspections by tax authorities across the country since November 2019.

Rights groups say the inspections and restrictive decisions have intensified in recent weeks.

RFE/RL has officially asked tax authorities to explain the situation but has yet to receive an answer.

The organizations facing pressure are involved in monitoring elections, defending human and civil rights, and promoting the rule of law.

Last week, Human Rights Watch said in a statement that alleged financial-reporting violations cast “serious doubt” that Kazakhstan’s leadership is working on improving its human rights record.

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