Several international rights watchdogs have accused Kazakh authorities of launching a pressure campaign on human rights organizations by making baseless claims about tax improprieties.
Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, and International Partnership for Human rights said in a joint statement on December 3 that tax authorities in Kazakhstan since mid-October had notified at least 13 human rights groups in the country, alleging that they had incorrectly completed declaration forms relating to foreign income, a requirement of a controversial and heavily criticized law introduced in 2016.
Failure to fill out the forms in a timely manner carries a fine of 555,600 tenges (some $1,300) and a suspension of activities, with a greater fine and a ban on activities for a repeat offense within a year.
The statement by the international human rights organizations called on the Kazakh authorities to “immediately drop these unfounded complaints against independent civil society organizations and live up to their international human rights obligations to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill human rights, including the right to freedom of association.”
“Targeting over a dozen prominent human rights groups with alleged financial reporting violations is more than gross overreach by Kazakhstan tax authorities,” said Marie Struthers, Eastern Europe and Central Asia director at Amnesty International. “It is a cynical attempt to silence independent and critical voices precisely when these voices matter the most.”
Those under government attack include leading human rights groups in Kazakhstan, such as the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law; the International Legal Initiative; Qadyr Qasiyet; and Echo Public Foundation. The groups work on human rights and other issues, ranging from election monitoring and environmental rights to freedom of expression and media freedom.
“It is of particular concern that the increased targeting coincides with the upcoming parliamentary election in January 2021,” said Andrew Anderson, executive director at Front Line Defenders.
“The targeting of human rights defenders will have a chilling effect on civil society, obstructing the important role of independent watchdogs in ensuring respect for human rights in the context of the elections, independent monitoring during the election campaign and election day.”
The groups also expressed concern that the tax authorities can impose penalties without due process of law. The targeted organizations in Kazakhstan have only 10 days after a fine is imposed to file a court appeal.