Shrinking space for Kazakhstan’s civil society


First, there was a media report hinting at shadowy links between foreign-funded charities and terrorism in Kazakhstan. Then, the taxman came knocking, notes analyst Joanna Lillis. The tax inspections served as a prelude to legal action against two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – action that some civil society campaigners see as evidence that their space to operate is quickly shrinking, she writes for

On June 21, the International Legal Initiative (ILI – left), an NGO promoting the rule of law, lost an appeal against an earlier ruling ordering it to pay corporate income tax. It created a legal precedent that the organization’s president, Aina Shormanbayeva, deemed a reprisal for its advocacy.

“We directly link this to our human rights work,” she told The ruling raises questions about the financing of Kazakhstan’s civil society sector, and campaigners fear it could be used to drum independent groups out of existence. The case dates back to a year ago, when news site published a report entitled “How much do foreign foundations spend on training activists in Kazakhstan?…The alarmist report was published against a backdrop of two unconnected events that had just rocked Kazakhstan: demonstrations against land reforms in May 2016 that ended in mass arrests; and a fatal armed attack in the city of Aktobe in June.

“The report singled out several foreign donors with supposedly suspect intentions, including the Open Society FoundationsFreedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Equal Rights Trust,” adds Lillis. “All are Western-based organizations that promote liberal values and equal opportunities, and have nothing to do with terrorism.”


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