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Transparency International expresses concerns over the release of Kazakhstan's "foreign agents" list

Transparency International is deeply concerned about the recent publication of a list by the Kazakh Ministry of Finance, which discloses civil society organisations (CSOs) receiving international funding. This move raises significant concerns about the negative impact this will have on the already shrinking space for civil society and independent media in Kazakhstan.

On 20 September, the Ministry of Finance in Kazakhstan published a list of entities and individuals who receive international funding. The authorities claim that this action is in accordance with legal changes made to the Kazakh Tax Code in 2022, with the intention of emulating the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The list includes over 200 organisations, companies, journalists and bloggers. Notably, a substantial number of CSOs operating in Kazakhstan fall under the purview of the list, raising serious questions about how this will potentially impact their watchdog role.

The efforts to curtail the ability of CSOs to access international funding and the publication of the list misrepresent the FARA and echo the Russian Federation’s "foreign agents" legislation and practice. For years, Russian authorities have used this legislation to stigmatise, silence and shut down civil society groups, human rights initiatives, independent media and others.

Despite the attempts to pass legislation, like Russia's controversial "foreign agents" law, Kazakhstan does not have a draft law explicitly designating CSOs as "foreign agents". Recent actions by the Kazakh authorities, taken under the pretext of transparency, raise concerns about the vital role of civil society in holding governments and institutions to account, particularly in exposing corruption. Publishing lists such as these contributes to the narrative that these entities serve foreign actors’ agendas.

Altynai Myrzabekova, Regional Advisor for Europe and Central Asia from Transparency International, said:

"Lists similar to that being proposed in Kazakhstan have been used in other places to suppress independent voices, create a chilling effect and outright curtail the crucial watchdog role of civil society and independent media by contributing to the rhetoric that they are advancing the interests of foreign actors. It is crucial that any measures taken by the Kazakh government to oversee international funding do not affect the legitimacy and public support of CSOs and journalists."

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