Expressing separatist ideas–even peaceful ones–will be illegal in Kazakhstan in the event that the country’s new draft Criminal Code becomes law. Spreading rumors will also be illegal, according to the new draft of the Code. Both crimes are liable to serious penalties.
The punishment for expressing separatist sentiments in Kazakhstan will be a maximum of 7 years–10 years if the offender is a person with an official position. For spreading rumors that may disturb the public order the draft provides for a maximum penalty of 12 years.
The two offenses are considered very serious by the legislators responsible for the new draft. Regarding the rumors legislation, Kazakhstan’s First Vice General Prosecutor, John Merkel, said, “Spreading rumors with a view to disturb the order in the society is a grave crime.” The separatist law, according to the head of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Arman Ayaganova, targets inter-regional conflicts, most likely.
The rumors bill is a response of the Kazakstan government to several panics that broke out following the spreading of rumors, particularly by means of sms messages. In the wake of a recent 20 percent currency devaluation, rumors had been spread that banks–Alliance, Caspi and Center Credit in particular–had gone bankrupt, causing “uncontrollable crowds” to withdraw their funds, destabilizing the banks. “Therefore, there will be a special provision to handle rumors. I believe the provision will make sure no such rumors are spread,” said Merkel. In another recent instance, in the south of Kazakhstan rumors had spread that a dam had broken, resulting in a large amount of Taraz residents fleeing their home late at night. The rumors regarding Russia’s Sochi Olympic Winter Games, claiming that security measures were inadequate, were also said to be a factor considered when writing the new laws.
Separatism caused a stir recently in Kazakhstan when, in February, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a Russian nationalist leader, suggested Russia should reabsorb Central Asia. Although Kazakhstan has a 22 percent ethnic Russian minority–mostly living along the Russian border–Astana supported the Russian annexation of Crimea.
Calls for violent separatist actions are already illegal in Kazakhstan, but the new legislation is intended to broaden the scope of separatist activity caught and increase punishment for such activity. “Calls fo illegitimate, unconstitutional changes to the territorial integrity of Kazakhstan or disintegration will be considered a criminal offense,” Ayaganova told journalists Tuesday. The toughest punishments for separatist calls will are reserved for officials “abusing his official position.” This legislation also covers calls for separatism or disintegration on the internet.
Criticism of the bill was voiced by Almaty-based lawyer Jokhar Utebekov, who noted that the new legislation against separatist expressions “bars the way towards federal forms of government and creation of national autonomies.” Utebekov also commented on the lack of a clear definition of the word “disintegration” in the draft law. “Disintegration,” he said, could be applied not only inter-regional conflicts but also calls such as “Stop feeding Astana” and “Stop pumping money out of Atyrau.”
The legislation is considered to be promising by its pundits, who have expressed hope that the tough penalties will dissuade potential criminals from spreading rumors and expressing separatist and “disintegration” ideas. “The punishment is quite tough,” said Merkel. “I believe the provision will make sure no such rumors are spread.”
By Day Blakely Donaldson