Thursday

4th Mar 2021

Kazakhstan lobbies MEPs ahead of human rights vote

  • Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan (Photo: Wikipedia)

Kazakhstan appears to be caving into public pressure on human rights, even as it intensifies lobbying of MEPs ahead of a vote on its record on the issue.

The emails from the Kazakh mission come ahead of a so-called urgency resolution on human rights set to be voted on in the plenary on Thursday (11 February).

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  • French far-right MEP Thierry Mariani observers elections in Kazakhstan (Photo: Thierry Mariani)

Its deputy head of mission in Brussels has been sending out emails, seen by this website, to political group advisors demanding they scupper the vote.

It claims such a resolution, if adopted, "would not be understood by Kazakh citizen" and may prevent the country from progressing on reforms.

"Such a measure might even discourage further progress," it said, noting that the country will also be celebrating 30 years of its independence.

The appeal comes amid a backdrop of human rights abuses in the country as it attempts to gain greater international standing.

Earlier this year, it invited far-right French MEP Thierry Mariani to monitor legislative elections. He then posted photos of himself at a voting booth.

Mariani has in the past made similar visits to the Russian annexed part of Ukraine, stoking outrage for his tacit support of the illegal takeover.

Italian centre-right MEP Fulvio Martusciello also went to Kazakhstan to observe elections in a three-day itinerary that included museum visits and a state dinner.

Martusciello chairs the EU parliament delegation to the region - noting that some 160 Italian companies operate in Kazakhstan.

"That's a shame. They are really undermining the other independent international observers," said German Green MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel of the election visits.

Von Cramon-Taubadel, who is drafting the resolution on behalf of the Greens, says all the main political groups remain intent on naming and shaming Kazakhstan.

"All bigger political groups are very much in favour of clear rhetoric of naming the victims of the regime, of naming at least some of the political prisoners," she said.

"We really tried to name [the] most prominent cases who died recently in prison. I mean, people got tortured and afterwards you have these fabricated stories about hooligans killing prisoners," she added.

She says the Kazakhs have also been spending lots of money on lobbying the European Parliament, including financing bogus studies on human rights.

The central Asian former Soviet state has also been currying relations with MEPs in one of the so-called "friendship groups" - an unregulated body used by foreign states to gain backdoor access to the European Parliament.

The chair of the group is Polish conservative MEP Ryszard Czarnecki, who was awarded a Kazakh Order of Friendship Award shortly after the elections.

"If you look a bit broader you can also see that there is no political opposition around," noted Philippe Dam, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Dam said Kazakhstan has jailed journalists, banned political opposition parties, and cracked down on civil society and NGOs.

He noted numerous pledges by the country's president to initiate reforms, but that a campaign of silencing state critics remains.

"Kazakhstan is trying to appear as a modern country, as a modern economy, but is still not respecting basic rights," he said.

The European Union appears to agree.

Earlier this month, it reprimanded Kazakhstan for suspending and imposing fines on NGOs.

It said such action limits internal reforms and damages the country's international reputation.

With the European Parliament now set to vote on a resolution on human rights in the country, Kazakhstan has since reversed its NGO crackdown.

But Dam remains sceptical of the recent overture, noting authorities can still use existing legislation to launch another crackdown anytime.

"The reality is that the suspension of the fines and sanctions on the NGOs should not be the end of the story," he said.

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