Kazakhstan adapts citizenship law as a counter-terrorism measure

The president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, signed on the 11th of July a law which strips of citizenship of Kazakhstanis involved in terrorist activities, according to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty. Ever since the beginning of April, a couple of publications pick on a declaration of President Nazarbayev through which he declared the necessity of this measure. At that time, Nazarbayev spoke of 500-600 Kazakhstani citizens who allegedly joined the Islamic State until then. On 25th of April, the Chinese news agency Xinhua announced the decision of the Kazakh government to send into Parliament a bill drafted in the name of the president of Kazakhstan, according to a declaration of Bakytzhan Sagintayev, the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan.

Based on constitutional rights, the President of Kazakhstan has an important role in the law-making process: she/he can adopt acts on the powers of the Parliament if the Parliament delegates to her/him this attribution and by signing a bill, this marks the end of the legislative process and the adoption of that particular law. In the case of citizenship deprivation as a punishment measure against Kazakhstani citizens with links to terrorism, the President’s role was to sign the law, and as already mentioned it was sent in the Parliament after a first reading of Kazakh Justice Minister Marat Bekentaev, where it was voted in the two rooms (Majilis and the Senate) of the Parliament in May and June, respectively.

Concerning the number of Kazakh citizens with links to terrorist organizations, in 2014 the estimations of the National Security Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan announced over 300 people militating for the Islamic State, almost half of them being women. A year later, when the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) report was published the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), the number of Kazakh citizens with links to terrorism activities in both Iraq and Syria was approximately around 300 citizens, a similar number with the one the intelligence agency announced a year before. It should be mentioned that the differences concerning data on Kazakhstan between the estimations provided by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) and those of alternative sources are relatively low compared to the data GTI managed to get for other states in the region. For 2016, the GTI brochure ranks Kazakhstan on the 94th place concerning the impact of terrorism in various states, just to compare on the 92nd place ranks Estonia and on the 95th is Morocco. In the same document it is mentioned that the highest number of casualties due to terrorism in Kazakhstan was in year 2011.

In regards to the counter-terrorism measures in Kazakhstan, both at a local level and externally as well, it should be mentioned that all actions are taken based on Law No. 416-I or 13th July 1999  „On the fight against terrorism” and Law No. 191-IV of 28th August 2009 „About counteraction of legalization (washing) of income gained in the criminal way and to terrorism financing. Apart from this, in 2006 the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan approved a list of 12 banned terrorist organizations, to which the Islamic state was added in 2015, the organizations are: the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami; the Jamaat of Central Asian Mujahedins; and the Islamic Party of Eastern Turkestan and an Uyghur separatist group are mentioned, adding to this list the Kongra-Gel Kurdish organization, the Boz Kurt (Gray Wolves), a Turkic right-wing group, Pakistan’s Lashkar-e Taiba, Kuwait’s Social Reforms Society, Asbat an-Ansar, a Palestinian group, Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan’s Taliban former ruling militia, and the Muslim Brotherhood .

At a national level there are various structures and institutions responsible for fighting, preventing and discouraging the apparition and influence of extremist or terrorist organizations among Kazakh citizens. Among these, we should mention the special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Sunkar and Arlan; the State Protection Service operations, Kokjal and Kalkan; Burkit, as part of the National Guard and Arystan which is part of the National Security Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan (KNB), together with special forces from the Ministry of Defense. Needless to say, for security reasons some of these operations are responsible to conduct missions outside the country as well.

In what concerns the external aspect of the counter-terrorism efforts of the Republic of Kazakhstan, we acknowledge various international structures with a strategic focus and regional security plans.  For example, on the 11th of July this year, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan joined a ministerial meeting in Vienna held by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe where they discussed the security threats, the various tensions in the Central Asia region, but also the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy together with the preparations done by Kazakh officials for their role in the United Nations Security Council.  Kazakhstan won a Seat for a 2 year elected membership in United Nations Security Council in June last year after a two round voting process for representing the Asia-Pacific region announces Astana Times. Apart from this, another relevant structure is the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) where there are recent discussions on the security of information, but also declarations concerning sending troops from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to Syria. Vladimir Shamanov, head of the State Duma Defense Committee, declared in an interview with RIA Novosti  on the 22nd of June that there are ongoing negotiations with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for assuring security in Syria. The next day, on the 23rd of June, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, made an official statement arguing against what was said by Shamanov: “Astana is not negotiating with anybody to send Kazakhstani servicemen to Syria” quoted originally by the Jamestown Foundation.

Other recent actions include the announcement made by the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Yerzhan Ashikbayev, during his visit to the United Nations Security Council at the beginning of June, in which he talked about Kazakhstan’s 300.000$ contribution for the development of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Thus, Kazakhstan becomes the first state in Central Asia to contribute for this fund against terrorism, according to a press release of the United Nations from 8th of June.

Kazakhstan’s efforts against religious radicalization and terrorism come after the growing influence of the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) in the South part of the state, the events from 9/11 in the U.S. and the terror attacks in Kazakhstan and of other states in the region. When it comes to HuT, the members of the organization with a pan-islamic project were caught in 2004 sharing propaganda leaflets which resulted in 111 criminal charges. Also in 2004, a group formed from uzbek nationals took part in attacks against the police in Tashkent in March, and in July there were attacks done at Israel’s Embassy and the United State’s Embassy, but also at the chief prosecution office in Tashkent.

Until 2011, Kazakhstan was considered a oasis of stability in Central Asia when a couple of attacks in Taraz, Aktobe, Atyrau and Almaty led to the death of at least 30 people. In a declaration made for EurasiaNet.org after the incidents, Dosym Satpayev, politcal analyst and Director at Almaty-based Risk Assessment Group said “Yes, today it is largely amateur activity, but if tomorrow professional combatants, for example citizens of Kazakhstan who are on the territory of Afghanistan, wind up on the territory of Kazakhstan, these are not people who make bombs from the Internet, and I think then an even more serious threat will emerge in Kazakhstan.”

Nowadays, discussions on terrorism involve dealing with religious extremism and the circulation of information in the online space, but also with social inequalities and the vulnerability of youth towards radicalization. In an article of Cabar.asia, the sociologist Serik Beisembaev identifies the main factors that lead to the radicalization of Kazakh youth. He says that for the major risk group of people between 16 and 29 years old, studies show that Salafi-jihadi ideology is more likely to resonate with the marginalized youth. “These individuals, before they approach radical ideology, are already in a state of life crisis due to social and economic precariousness or an inability to adapt to new conditions. According to statistics, over 80% of those convicted of religious extremism and terrorism in Kazakhstan are people who did not have formal employment or work in the informal sector of the economy (markets, private transportation, etc.). A significant portion of them were children of internal migrants who moved from rural areas to larger towns and experienced, in this regard, some problems of adaptation” says Beisembaev. The sociologist recommend both identifying the risk groups and the development of policies which facilitate the integration of disadvantaged youth into society or of those with criminal accounts in the past.

The deprivation of citizenship is a controversial measure when it comes to fighting terrorism, taking into consideration the consequences it can have on international or regional security, but also in regards to the human rights. Apart from Kazakhstan, similar measures were also adopted in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, but also in Belgium or Australia among other states in the World where citizens held guilty for being involved in terrorist activities risk to lose their citizenship. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 states that (1) everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution and that (2) this right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Letta Tayler, researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism, writes an analysis for Human Rights Watch concerning the problems of Resolution 2178 by United Nations Security Council which fails to provide a universal definition for terrorism, letting each state to provide their own understanding and interpretation of the notion. “The effectiveness of stripping citizenship as a means of confronting a transnational terrorist threat is questionable” says Tayler in her analysis “Banishment risks transferring control of terrorism suspects to governments that may not prosecute them. Moreover, terrorists who learn or suspect they are non grata may simply commit attacks elsewhere, including on foreign-based facilities of the country that revoked their citizenship”. Until this moment there is no official position of the United Nations institutions in the region concerning Kazakhstan’s decision to approve of the citizenship deprivation measure.

 In an another article published in the Chicago Journal of International law written by Shiva Jayaraman, the author explores the consequences of denationalization projects of citizens involved in terror attacks. At the end of the paper, Jayaraman argues: “Given the questionable efficacy of these plans and their numerous negative ramifications on international law, States should refrain from implementing them.”

What are the grave consequences the researcher speaks about? First of all, a dumping effect would result from the deprivation of citizenship of the people who might want to return, which leads to a lack of motivation and power to renounce their belonging to a terrorist organization. The persons risking to be rendered stateless could find themselves in the position of not being able to choose quitting terrorism due to their inability to go back in their countries of origin. The effect would be such that although on a short term basis, citizens would be discouraged to join terrorist structures, on a long term figure the problems are “punted towards the international community” and other state’s jurisdiction where these individuals are located.  Second of all, provided that the state intelligence has information of who has taken part in terrorist activity abroad, they also have the obligation to bring that person to justice (supposedly under international law). From this point of view, renouncing citizenship is problematic because is leads to extrajudicial killing, which is worrying for the international law and human rights. Third of all, there is the possibility of error, according to Jayaraman. Even if a person is indeed a terrorist, according to the author, there would be more efficient measures like bored control and marking passport of those held accountable in countering terrorism. Last of all, there is the argument of balancing the security benefits of the state that initiates denationalization with  its consequences, regarding the international law and the security of other states.

Demographically speaking, the number of stateless persons in Central Asia is hard to establish, even more when we speak of statelessness because of involvement in terrorist acts. In 2011, a report of the United Nations High Comissioner for Refugees  (UNCHR) mentions 46,886 persons in this situation due to multiple reasons. What would happen to Kazakh citizens found in this situation after completing their penalty (provided that they are not sentenced for death or prison for life) is still unclear. The same report shows that the stateless persons in Kazakhstan may be expelled if they are considered to pose threats to national security, if they threaten public health and morals or if they break the necessity of protecting public rights and interests, all of which could be applied in the case of people formerly involved in terrorism. Simillar measures are taken by most states in the region like Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, raising an issue concerning regional security and the costs of managing stateless persons due to terrorism accounts at a regional level.


Published by Chamber of Commerce and Industry Romania-Turkmenistan

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Romania-Turkmenistan (CCIRom-Tkm) is a non-governmental organization of public utility, autonomous and apolitical, founded in 2009 to promote the economic cooperation between Romania, Turkmenistan and other countries in the Central Asian region.

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