WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today expressed deep concern over Kazakhstan’s new law that grants President Nursultan Nazarbayev lifetime control of policy, blanket immunity from prosecution, and protection for his family’s assets.
“Nursultan Nazarbayev has already been President of Kazakhstan for almost two decades, yet he has now effectively granted himself blanket immunity and control over government policy for life,” Cardin said. “He had previously told the nation that he did not want this distinction – why, then, did he not make sure the bill did not become law? Sadly, it seems he chose personal power over democratic development.”
Kazakhstan’s parliament has approved legislation that gives President Nazarbayev far-reaching new powers should he leave office. Though he told the country on June 3 he would not sign the bill, he never formally vetoed it, allowing it to become law. The legislation names him “leader of the nation,” and grants him immunity from investigation or prosecution, protection for his assets, and final approval on all policy moves – for life, even if he is no longer president.
Nazarbaev, 69, has ruled the Central Asian state since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, before which he was its top Communist Party official. His current term expires in 2012, but in 2007, legislation was passed allowing him to run for an unlimited number of terms. Kazakhstan currently holds the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
This law is the latest in a series of actions the Helsinki Commission has been monitoring. As Freedom House has detailed, defamation remains a criminal offense, which the government uses along with a restrictive Internet law to muzzle independent media; the government jailed without due process newspaper editor Ramazan Yesergepov for allegedly publishing state secrets and seized entire print runs this February after newspapers published corruption allegations about President Nazarbayev’s son-in-law. Political parties continue to face barriers to registration. And human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis remains in jail after a trial which featured flagrant problems with due process and rule of law.