Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

Erica Marat argues in her excellent comment (“Kazakhstan pays the price for ignoring public discontent”, Opinion, 12 January) that the country’s current crisis shows the high cost of ignoring grassroots grievances and that a broader public consensus is needed to implement the government’s ambitious reform agenda.

Examples from recent years illustrate how the government has indeed failed to respond to general concerns and how it has created conditions that have led to the protests and bloodshed. Participating in peaceful public demonstrations is not just a human right, but a release valve and a way of signaling emerging issues to authorities.

But both current and past presidents have shown paranoia about peaceful protests, and the so-called reform of a public assembly law that has been claimed to make it easier for congregations has ultimately done the opposite. This month, these policy failures exploded in the face of the government.

Similarly, technocratic reforms of union laws have fueled deep frustration by making it virtually impossible for independent unions to function.

Brave labor activists were among those who took part in the January 2 protests.

Finally, many opposition activists were beaten or detained. Several small opposition groups have been active in recent years, but rather than allow them a vote, the government has banned them as “extremist” and sent dozens of their alleged members to jail or convicted. Again, a situation the government could have avoided.

With more than 100 deaths reported, it’s hard to talk of a possible silver lining for this crisis. But if anything positive is to emerge, it is to be hoped that the government learns the hard way that respect for human rights and listening to the voices of the grassroots level is the only way forward.

Hugh Williamson
Director of Europe and Central Asia
human rights commission
Berlin, Germany

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