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Marius Fossum: The authorities of Kazakhstan need to start a dialogue with protesters

“Instead of suppressing the protests, the authorities need to start a comprehensive dialogue with the protesters because further disregard of their claims can cause even more discontent and tension in the society,” human rights activist Marius Fossum said in the interview to CABAR.asia.

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Detention of protesters in Almaty at 10th of June. Photo: Reuters

Election in Kazakhstan has drawn closer attention of international human rights organisations due to mass detentions and arrests of protesters in the capital Nur-Sultan, Almaty and other towns of the country.

The UN Human Rights Office has called upon the authorities of the country to carry out their legal obligations “to respect and protect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.” International human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has also commented on the issue and urged the authorities to revise the norm of preliminary approval of protests by the authorities and to bring the law in balance with international standards.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is also closely monitoring and documenting human rights violations in Kazakhstan. Its regional representative, Marius Fossum, told about the recent protests and detentions in large cities of Kazakhstan.

IWPR: How would you describe the protests in Almaty and Nur-Sultan? 

Marius Fossum: On June 9 and 10, thousands of people took to streets of Nur-Sultan and Almaty to protest against the election. Police officers detained at least 700 people these days and violated, as is often the case in Kazakhstan, the right of people to peaceful assembly. Then, on June 12, after the inauguration of Tokayev, new protests were reported. The police have blocked almost the downtown of Almaty and didn’t allow any significant protest campaigns to take place there. Nevertheless, according to my estimates, nearly 100 people were detained that day, including journalists and passers-by.

I would like to emphasise that I was in Almaty those days and watched the protests and mass detentions and I didn’t see any signs of aggression from the protesters. All protests were peaceful.
Marius Fossum. The photo provided IWPR by respondent.

IWPR: Please tell about your detention. How did it end, after all? Are you going to sue the police?

I was documenting mass detentions in the square of Astana, when I heard a voice behind me who ordered to detain me. Four or five men in black uniforms approached me. They took me by both arms and dragged me from the square to the police van. It was packed with the detained people and there was no room for me, so we stood beside it waiting for the second van to arrive. After a while, a plain-clothes security officer appeared and when I said I was the international observer of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee he ordered to release me. The majority of detained were not that lucky. I am not going to sue the police.

IWPR: How would you estimate the response of the law enforcement bodies against the protesters? Why did they respond so tough – by detentions and arrests, in your opinion?

Mass detentions are a clear violation of right to peaceful assemblies guaranteed by the constitution of Kazakhstan, as well as by international human rights conventions signed by Kazakhstan. The police also detained and prevented the work of journalists and human rights activists, which raised concerns about the security of journalists and human rights activists during such events. According to the authorities, the protests were unsanctioned, but in practice administrative obstacles deprive the citizens of their right to peaceful assembly – the authorities of Kazakhstan don’t allow political opposition to hold public protests. The police that detain violently hundreds of civilians just for their protest taint the image of Kazakhstan.

Instead of suppressing the protests, the authorities should build an exhaustive dialogue with protesters because further disregard of their claims could raise even more protests and tension in the society.
IWPR: How should international organisations, foreign countries-partners to Kazakhstan promoting democracy respond to such actions by the authorities of Kazakhstan?

The European Union, United States and all democratic states should take human rights violations in Kazakhstan seriously and demand that the authorities release all the detained people. Massive violations of human rights in Kazakhstan should have consequences on the part of partners to Kazakhstan.

IWPR: What is the Norwegian Helsinki Committee going to do about this situation?

The right to peaceful assembly is one of the priorities of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in Kazakhstan because the authorities violate this constitutional right regularly. We will keep on monitoring the situation and documenting and covering these violations, and also supporting the promotion of human rights in the country. We will also continue to support our partners that work to protect the freedom of peaceful assembly in Kazakhstan.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.  The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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