Today, on Human Rights Day, ARTICLE 19 launches a new report: “Don’t Provoke, Don’t Challenge” : the Censorship and Self-Censorship of the LGBT Community in Kazakhstan.
This report examines challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Kazakhstan when exercising the right to freedom of expression. It is based on pilot research conducted in September 2015, including interviews with LGBT people in six cities of Kazakhstan, analysis of Kazakhstan’s domestic legislation and media monitoring.
The findings of the research demonstrate an environment in which expression related to LGBT identities is directly censored – often justified on the grounds of protecting ‘morality’ or ‘traditional values’. At the same time, societal prejudices and a lack of legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity have created an environment in which LGBT people resort to self-censorship to avoid harassment or even violence.
The situation is further exacerbated by the absence of platforms where LGBT people can publicly express themselves or access relevant information around the issues they face. Despite a few positive examples, media coverage tends to be sensationalist, if not openly homophobic and discriminatory. This has created an atmosphere of distrust between LGBT people and media workers, further reinforcing practices of self-censorship. The situation is compounded by openly homophobic rhetoric propagated by influential public figures, which encourage negative attitudes towards LGBT people.
Censorship restricts the flow of information from and about LGBT people, preventing them from expressing themselves and denying them opportunities to assert other fundamental rights – such as the right to education and the right to health. It also violates the rights of all people to openly discuss issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, and prevents them accessing information on a wide range of related concerns. Attempts to justify this on the grounds of protecting children and upholding morality contradict the principles
of the universality of human rights. Freedom of Expression is a fundamental human right and cannot be denied to a whole section of the population, due to societal prejudices.
Restrictions on the rights of LGBT people occur against the backdrop of a broader disregard for freedom of expression within Kazakhstan. Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, this right is repeatedly violated, due to broad, contradictory or simply repressive legislation, a lack of procedural safeguards and an absence of political will.
Ensuring the right to free expression of LGBT people demands the introduction of a variety of measures to tackle intolerance and prejudice on all grounds, and ensure universal equality and non-discrimination. Legislation and judicial practices must be reformed to promote freedom of expression and equality for all, while including an explicit recognition of sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected characteristic. Moreover, the Kazakh authorities must take the lead on rejecting homophobia and transphobia, with public officials demonstrating a firm commitment to respect the principles of equality, tolerance and diversity related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
At the same time, the government must seek to challenge the dominant rhetoric on sexual orientation and gender identity within Kazakhstan, in order to tackle hate speech against LGBT people and facilitate an environment in which LGBT people are able to express the right to freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 believes that resolving tensions and intolerance related to sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be achieved by suppressing the expression of differences but rather by debating them openly. This requires a series of measures, aimed at promoting more positive discourse on LGBT issues. These should combine positive policy measures, aimed at tackling the root causes of prejudice and intolerance against LGBT people, with the development of a coherent legal framework for prohibiting the advocacy of hatred against LGBT people that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence that nevertheless upholds the fundamental principles of freedom of speech.
It is also essential that LGBT people can rely on the broader support of civil society to promote expression, as part of anti-discrimination networks, challenging intolerance and prejudice on any grounds and promoting the universality and indivisibility of human rights for all people.
The government and parliament of Kazakhstan should:
- Include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for protection from discrimination in all legislation, and specify that sexual orientation and gender identity is a ground for prohibition of incitement to hatred in Article 174 of the Criminal Code, while also ensuring that this provision is reformed to prevent its abusive application against minority and dissenting views.
- Refrain from adopting, and also repeal, any laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including any laws aimed at prohibiting dissemination of information on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Simplify procedures for gender reassignment treatment and for changing legal gender identity.
- Amend Kazakh legislation to align it with its international obligations to establish a presumption in favour of the exercise of the right to free expression
- Refrain from filtering, blocking, removal and other technical or legal limits on access to content on LGBT identities. Protect against all extra-judicial blocking of online information, and ensure that blocking can only occur on the order of a judicial body in pursuant to a clearly defined law, fully complying with international standards on freedom of expression.
- Create independent equality institutions, with proper financial support, with mandates to develop data collection mechanisms and to promote empirical and other research on discrimination on various grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Any comprehensive policy for tackling inequality, discrimination and other forms of prejudice against LGBT people should be evidence-based.
- Organise public information and education campaigns, in collaboration with civil society, to combat negative stereotypes of, and discrimination against, LGBT people. In particular, public information and education campaigns should be integrated into primary, secondary and tertiary education, and complemented with concrete anti-bullying policies, including the provision of support services for victims of bullying, including peer-led initiatives.
- Encourage media to take an unbiased approach to covering challenges faced by LGBT people, including by offering incentive for this from the The Ministry of Innovation and Development.
- Provide trainings for public officials and other public figures on the right of LGBT people to equality and non-discrimination. Instruct politicians and other influential people in society on the importance of avoiding statements that might promote discrimination or undermine equality. Develop and adopt ethical codes and “no discrimination” policies for elected officials.
Civil Society Organisations should:
- Respect pluralism and promote the rights to freedom of expression and equality for all people, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity;
- Develop coalitions of CSOs working on the universality of human rights, to push for legislative change promoting tolerance and non-discrimination, on all grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity;
- Lead on public information and education campaigns aimed at combating negative stereotypes of LGBT people and promoting and protecting universal human rights;
- Undertake monitoring of incidences of intolerance and prejudice concerning LGBT people and provide data to the government and equality bodies (as established).
Media Organisations should:
- Recognise the moral and social responsibility to promote equality and non-discrimination, including based on sexual orientation and gender identity of media organisations;
- Ensure that workforces are diverse and representative of society as a whole;
- Address as far as possible issues of concern to all groups in society, including LGBT people;
- Adopt and implement professional codes of conduct that reflect equality principles Avoiding unnecessary references to sexual orientation or gender identity that may promote intolerance;
- Raise awareness of the harm caused by discrimination and negative stereotyping of LGBT people.