Kazakhstan: NGO Law Approved Amid Civil Society Resistance
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed off on a controversial law regulating the funding of nongovernmental organizations, against the advice of campaigners.
Critics of the bill drew comparisons to a 2012 law adopted in Russia that requires foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” although Kazakhstan’s law contains no such wording.
The law, approved on December 2, will establish a single state operator through which funding for NGOs must be channeled.
In October, as the bill was wending its way through Kazakhstan’s rubberstamp parliament, civil society campaigners urged Nazarbayev to veto it.
The legislation would give the state a veto over which NGOs receive funding and for what kind of activities, they argued. They pointed out that the bill’s wording does not include human rights in the list of areas in which NGOs can legitimately operate, though it does not rule the sphere out either.
The law will grant the government “ideological control over NGOs,” activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev said.
Over 60 NGOs signed a petition calling on Nazarbayev to reject the law, charging that it would “seriously restrict human rights,” including the rights to freedom of speech, conscience and association.
The OSCE’s media freedom representative agreed, warning that the law “could pose a clear threat to free media.”
The government has rejected criticisms of the bill.
The law intends to “usher in a new level of transparency into the way government grants are distributed,” Usen Suleimen, the Foreign Ministry’s ambassador-at-large, argued in The Diplomat last month.
Suleimen said Kazakhstan wanted to build a diverse and robust civil society and that the aim of the reforms was to create the environment where NGOs of all types could thrive and continue their work.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.