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Kazakh Elections Tainted

In a report Freedom of the Media and Political Freedoms in the Prelude to the 1999 Elections , Human Rights Watch charged that the government was repeating the manipulation used in the January election of President Nazarbaev.

These tactics, which include the banning of opposition candidates and censoring the media will taint the polls for the lower house of parliament, to be elected on October 10.

In its report, the international monitoring group methodically documents how the Kazakh government succeeded in curtailing freedom of expression, association, assembly and the right to political participation in the run-up to Presidential elections held in January. Human Rights Watch says that the government has repeated these methods in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.

"While promising free and fair elections, the government used every means at its disposal to tilt the playing field," said Holly Cartner, Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "It now stands poised to repeat this blatant manipulation in the parliamentary vote."

The 39-page report, which is based on a fact-finding mission conducted in December 1998, details the various means used to silence independent news media, to thwart efforts by opposition groups to organize, and to prevent critically-minded individuals from standing for election. The report further shows how the government directed state agencies to coerce public support for President Nazarbaev, in violation of international standards on free participation and of Kazakhstan's own election law.

Even before the announcement of early presidential elections in October, 1998, the government began actively obstructing the formation, registration, and activities of groups of citizens intending to organize support for opposition candidates or to participate in the upcoming vote as monitors. Amendments to the Law on Elections passed in May 1998 allowed the government to disqualify prominent members of the opposition from standing. Five privately-owned newspapers affiliated with opposition groups were fined on highly questionable defamation charges, subjected to specious tax audits, shut down temporarily or closed.

"Little has changed since the run-up to the presidential vote in January,"said Cartner. "The government is ‘allowing' some opposition parties and candidates to run relatively unimpeded, but is blocking those which most threaten it." She deplored "continuing efforts to force citizens to support the government's preferred candidates."

Recent reports received by Human Rights Watch that workers in government institutions have been threatened with the loss of their jobs if they did not vote for candidates backed by the government are credible in light of the facts gathered during the presidential election campaign. Serious government harassment of independent print and broadcast media has continued unabated.

The OSCE, which has announced it will observe the vote, blasted the lack of cooperation with its vote monitors in the first stage of elections to the upper house or Senate, held on September 17.

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