First, there was a media report hinting at shadowy links between foreign-funded charities and terrorism in Kazakhstan. Then, the taxman came knocking.
The tax inspections served as a prelude to legal action against two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – action that some civil society campaigners see as evidence that their space to operate is quickly shrinking.
On June 21, the International Legal Initiative (ILI), an NGO promoting the rule of law, lost an appeal against an earlier ruling ordering it to pay corporate income tax. It created a legal precedent that the organization’s president, Aina Shormanbayeva, deemed a reprisal for its advocacy.
“We directly link this to our human rights work,” she told EurasiaNet.org.
The ruling raises questions about the financing of Kazakhstan’s civil society sector, and campaigners fear it could be used to drum independent groups out of existence.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.