Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokaev takes the oath during his inauguration ceremony in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

© 2019 Vladislav Vodnev / Sputnik via AP

(Berlin) – Kazakhstan’s new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokaev, should urgently address pressing human rights concerns as part of his mandate, Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent to the president that was released today.

Tokaev was inaugurated on June 12, 2019, after the long-time president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, stepped down from office earlier in 2019.

“Strengthening protection for human rights is long overdue in Kazakhstan,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For a start, President Tokaev should adopt a reform agenda that includes robust measures to protect media freedom, trade union rights, and the right to peaceful protest.”

Human Rights Watch has monitored and documented human rights violations in Kazakhstan for over 20 years, and has carried out in-depth investigations into violations of fundamental freedoms including freedom of association, workers’ rights to organize, and the rights of children with disabilities.

Human Rights Watch highlighted key areas of concern and urged authorities to take action to address long-standing abuses. President Tokaev should lift restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of speech and the media, revise overbroad criminal charges and stop using them to target government critics, and ensure the rights of children with disabilities. The authorities should also release the wrongfully imprisoned human rights defender Maks Bokaev, who peacefully protested against proposed land code amendments and was imprisoned for five years on multiple charges, including “inciting social discord.”  

In his inauguration speech, President Tokaev said that one of the key components of his platform is “to protect the rights of every citizen.”

“For many years, Kazakhstan’s leadership has paid lip service to human rights while cracking down on fundamental rights and freedoms at home,” Williamson said. “If his words are to carry any weight, President Tokaev should waste no time in carrying out meaningful and tangible human rights reforms.”