Kazakhstan Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

In Kazakhstan, abbreviated as KAZ by Abbreviationfinder, the elections held since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 have been marked by shortcomings, irregularities and cheating. The opposition has a hard time making its voice heard.

It remains to be seen what the shift in the presidential post in the spring of 2019 (see Current Policy) means. However, there are many indications that Nursultan Nazarbayev (President 1991–2019) and his family will retain a decisive influence over Kazakh politics and society. The successor Kasym-Zyomart Tokayev is regarded by many as Nazarbayev’s puppet.

  • Countryaah: Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Kazakhstan, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.

Much of the power is gathered around the presidential office, although constitutional changes from 2017 aim to strengthen Parliament at the expense of the head of state (see Political system).

Political parties and party candidates have sometimes been prevented by the authorities from registering. Opposition movements have also been banned. Oppositionists have been put on trial on questionable grounds. Freedom of assembly and assembly is the responsibility of the holders of power. However, at the end of 2019, Tokayev said that the requirement for permission from the demonstration authorities should be abolished.

The regime is accused of widespread corruption and brother-in-law; close relatives of those in power benefit both politically and financially. Corruption is widespread within the justice system. In 2019, Kazakhstan was ranked 113th in Transparency International’s index of corruption in 180 of the world’s countries (see the full list here). This was an improvement with eleven investments compared to the previous year.

Freedom of expression and media

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are guaranteed in the Constitution, but in practice they are often placed in exceptions. Independent media is struggling in the headwind. The authorities use both legislation and financial means to silence critical voices. Kazakhstan was ranked 157th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2020 (see full list here). It was about the same level as a year earlier.

Rules adopted in 2012 gave the Ministry of Culture the right to fight “unofficial and negative information”. By the end of the same year, all leading opposition media had been accused of “extremism” and banned. This involved independent newspapers and TV channels, as well as a large number of websites.

The strike followed unrest in connection with a strike in 2011 (see Modern History), when the police used emergency laws to prevent journalists from reporting. Afterwards, the number of raids against media organizations and harassment by journalists increased significantly.

It is forbidden to misrepresent images of the president or reveal information about his privacy, health and finances. Defamation laws also apply to other politicians. Other restrictions are in place to protect the state, the constitution or morality. It is forbidden to publish some details about the state’s economy, such as the size of the external debt. In late 2019, President Tokayev said the penalty for slander and hate speech would be lowered.

Most media organizations and book publishers are owned or controlled by the Nazarbayev family or others belonging to the political elite. The president’s immediate circle also controls the print shops, which often refuse to print opposition or independent newspapers.

The law requires traditional media as well as online publications to register with the authorities. Minimum change – such as change of staff or address – requires re-registration.

Since 2017, news sites on the internet must identify users who post in the comment fields under articles and keep the information for three months. Journalists must also request permission from interviewees before publishing information pertaining to their person, family, health, finances and “other legally protected secrets”.

The commonly used prosecution cases are settled in government-run courts. The charges can be directed at both owners and distributors as well as editors and journalists, and the burden of proof lies with the accused. The price for challenging the government is high – in many cases, smaller media companies have gone bankrupt after being sued by someone in power. All this leads to extensive self-censorship among the media.

Judicial system and legal security

The judiciary is formally independent, but the president has the right to appoint and dismiss judges in the local and regional courts.

Respect for human rights was previously considered to be better than in other countries in Central Asia. But during the 2010 century, reports of torture and persecution of oppositionists increased. In particular, the situation is considered to have worsened after the turmoil in 2011. Some accuse the Western world of closing its eyes on the repression, as large business opportunities attract in the oil-rich country.

There are laws that restrict human rights, for example by requiring the registration of political and religious groups. Regime-critical persons are often harassed by the authorities through, among other things, prosecution. At the end of 2019, President Tokayev said that the penalty for hate speech and slander would be lowered and that it would be easier to register new political parties.

Criminally suspected persons and prisoners are often subjected to abuse and other abuses and the conditions in the prisons are substandard. In practice, the death penalty is no longer applied. In 2003, a stop for executions was introduced, and in 2007 the law was amended so that the death penalty can only be punished for terrorism and war crimes.

Kazakhstan Crime Rate & Statistics



The President is re-elected

Nazarbayev is re-elected as president with 91 percent of the vote. Observers from the western world refuse the choice. Former President Tujaqbaj, candidate for For a Fair Kazakhstan (see March 2005), receives just under 7 percent.


Opposition politicians are murdered

Opposition politician Zamanbek Nurkadilov is found shot to death in his home.


Breaker portion is formed

A group breaks out of Ak Zjol and forms the new party The True Light Road under the leadership of Altynbek Särsenbajev, Bolat Äbilov and Oraz Zjandosov.


New parties are formed

Ak Zjol, the Communist Party and Kazakhstan’s democratic elections form a new movement called For a Fair Kazakhstan. It will be led by Tujaqbaj (see October 2004). Later that month a new party is formed: Forward (Alga).


Opposition party is prohibited

A court orders that the opposition party Kazakhstan’s democratic elections should be dissolved after it urged its supporters to protest the parliamentary elections.