As Ukraine Splinters, Kazakhstan Mulls Criminalizing Calls for Separatism
As leaders across the former Soviet Union watch another predominantly Russian-speaking region of Ukraine demand independence this week, Astana is mulling legislation that would jail anyone who calls for separatism in Kazakhstan.
Under a proposed amendment to the criminal code, Kazakhstanis could get 10 years in prison for making "illegal and unconstitutional calls for changes to the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” Arman Ayaganov of Kazakhstan's Prosecutor General's office told journalists April 8, Tengrinews reports.
"The article refers to serious [offenses] and the first part provides a maximum penalty of imprisonment for up to seven years. If these same actions would be performed by a person using his official position, up to 10 years," Ayaganov added.
The amendment would cover calls for separatism or independence made in the media, including the Internet – and thus, it seems, on social media platforms like Facebook.
In February, Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky sparked outrage in Astana by suggesting Russia should reabsorb Central Asia.
Kazakhstan is home to a sizeable ethnic Russian minority (22 percent of the population), mostly concentrated in the north along the 7,000-kilometer border with Russia. Though Astana supported Russia's annexation of Crimea last month, officials are nervously monitoring domestic developments. They’re fearful of the precedent Russian President Vladimir Putin set when he signed legislation welcoming Crimea into the Russian Federation on March 21 after a referendum widely condemned as a sham. Calls for independence in Donetsk and other areas of eastern Ukraine this week are likely adding to anxieties.
Kazakhstan's parliament has been discussing revisions to the criminal code since last fall. This sudden addition looks like a reaction to events in Ukraine.
Paul Bartlett is a journalist based in Almaty.