MEPs criticise Kazakhstan amid fears of media crackdown
Agence France Presse - 6 February 2004
European parliament deputies in a letter released on Friday protested Kazakhstan's plans for a new media law that threatens to further reduce independent reporting in the former Soviet republic.
"Regrettably the draft media law represents a step backwards for Kazakhstan in terms both of respect for its international legal obligations and of its democratic ... credentials," read the letter from Jas Gawronski and Charles Tannock, deputies on the European parliament's foreign affairs committee, to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Western countries fearful of future instability in ex-Soviet Central Asia see Kazakhstan as setting a crucial example in a region where many newspapers do little more than reprint government decrees.
The main body promoting democracy in the region, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has called on Kazakhstan's government to drop the draft media law currently being considered in parliament pending a thorough rethink.
Critics have particularly objected to the draft law's reinforcement of a constitutional ban on offending the president's honour and dignity and of clauses permitting the imprisonment of journalists on loosely defined grounds.
Statements by Nazarbayev professing democratic aspirations have been further undermined recently by two assaults on female journalists and a ban on parliament deputies reading an opposition newspaper, the Assandi-Times, in the parliament building.
Nazarbayev has clung to power in Kazakhstan since the end of Soviet rule in 1991 through a series of flawed elections and referenda and has vowed to win a new seven-year term in a presidential election in 2006.
While much of Kazakhstan's media nominally rests in private hands many outlets are thought to be controlled by Nazarbayev's family and associates, including his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva.
Nazarbayeva heads the largest media group Khabar and recently founded her own political party Asar (All Together), which has vowed loyalty to her father.
The text of the letter follows:
To his Excellency Nursultan Nazarbaev
President of the Republic of Kazakhstan
11 Mira Street
Dear Mr President,
We would like to express our grave concerns regarding the draft Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “Concerning Mass Media” (daft Media Law), prepared by the Government of Kazakhstan and passed by the Majilis on 25 December 2003.
Reports by both inter-governmental organisations and leading freedom of expression and media groups – including the OSCE, ARTICLE 19 and the International Press Institute – conclude that the draft Media Law fails to respect international standards regarding freedom of expression and of the media.
As Members of the European Parliament, we are concerned that the draft Media Law unduly restricts the independence of the media and its ability to report freely on matters of public interest. This is of particular concern given the Parliamentary elections scheduled for 2004. As elected politicians, we are only too aware that unwanted criticism may be levelled against us by the media in our member states and that such criticism may run counter to our interests. But these measures taken by the Kazakhstan government negate both the media’s legitimate right to scrutinise and to criticise their politicians and the obligations of Kazakhstan elected politicians to tolerate that scrutiny.
We welcome Kazakhstan’s commitment to ratify shortly important international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, ratification without implementation is of little value and we urge you to take the necessary measures to ensure that the legal framework in place in Kazakhstan, and particularly that new legislation, is in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of these international conventions.
The Republic of Kazakhstan is in a state of democratic transition. We recognise that this is a process that takes some time. However, some former Soviet republics, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have made such significant progress, in particular in terms of human rights and democracy. Regrettably, the Draft Media Law represents a step backwards for Kazakhstan in terms both of respect for its international legal obligations and of its democratic and international credentials.
Jas Gawronski, MEP
Charles Tannock, MEP