ARTICLE 19 shares the Special Rapporteur’s concerns over the proliferation in legislation of imprecise definitions of “extremism”, and “violent extremism”, and, as she rightly identifies, the “widespread abuses of human rights” such definitions enable. The misuse of sweeping criminal laws that deploy these ambiguous definitions is a global phenomenon, and a driving force behind the shrinking of civic space.
These laws, while ostensibly premised on security imperatives, are often designed precisely to facilitate the authorities’ efforts to silence journalists, human rights defenders, civil society actors, and minority and oppositional voices.
In Russia, the government is tightening its grip on critical and opposition voices through the deliberate misuse of overbroad extremism and counter-terrorism laws against the media, civil society, and religious minorities.
The authorities are pursuing over 300 ‘extremism’ cases related to individuals associated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses – a designated ‘extremist’ group – in clear violation of the right freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of religion or belief.
Powers to block and remove online content designated ‘extremist’ have been broadly applied to restrict access to human rights’ monitoring work, and media outlets’ websites.
Journalist and radio broadcaster Svetlana Prokopieva remains in arbitrary detention for her journalistic work reporting on an act of terrorism in the country: detained since 2018, she faces up to 7 years’ imprisonment if convicted. The radio stations that broadcasted her comments – Ekho Moskvyy and Pskovskaya Lenta Novoste – were fined.
We note that in December, the General Assembly adopted by consensus, with record levels of support, a resolution expressly calling upon States to ensure that measures to combat terrorism are in compliance with their international obligations and do not arbitrarily or unduly hinder the work and safety of journalists, including through arbitrary arrest or detention or the threat thereof.
We share the Rapporteur’s concerns that in Kazakhstan, ill-defined terrorism and extremism offences are applied to criminalise the work of human rights organisations, religious organisations, and the media. In December 2018, journalist Oralbek Omyrov, activist Almat Zhumagulov and poet Kenzhebek Abishev were sentenced to between 7-8 years’ imprisonment for ‘terrorist propaganda’. We urge the government to fully implement the Rapporteur’s recommendations and to cease all such harassment.
We ask the Special Rapporteur if her findings in Kazakhstan are indicative of regional, and global trends, and what role the international community can play in reversing these pernicious trends, in particular considering the upcoming review of the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy in New York?