No Criminal Punishment For Defamation
ASTANA, Sept. 9, 2013 – Civil society calls legislators to decriminalize defamation. Adil Soz Foundation in partnership with Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan, the OSCE Center in Astana and the Netherlands Embassy facilitated a round table “International Standards To Press Freedom” to raise public interest to this pressing issue.
In 2011, President Nursultan Nazarbayev in The Washington Post Opinions Page wrote, Kazakhstan will “make defamation a civil rather than a criminal offence,” following its pursuit to build a stronger democracy. Two years after, with the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offences being under revision, defamation is still treated as a crime.
“In April 2011, Kazakhstan adopted administrative praejudicium (prior judgment), which imposes criminal liability only on those, who have re-committed an offense within a year while serving the first administrative punishment. In that respect, Kazakhstan has followed an example of Belarus while other five CIS countries, including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine, fully decriminalized defamation,” said in an opening speech Anton Artemyev, Executive Director of Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan.
According to Tamara Kaleyeva, President of Adil Soz Foundation, in Kazakhstan, administrative praejudicium for defamation cases is futile because subsequent amendments have not been introduced to the Code of Administrative Offences. “Even if the procedures were fulfilled, administrative praejudicium per se does not concretely resolve the issue. In democratic societies, a repeated act of defamation or insult is subject to a stricter administrative punishment, which must not be substituted by criminal liability as Kazakhstani legislature currently suggests.”
Any restrictions to freedom of expression or information must be legitimized by law. However, defamation laws must neither stifle public discussions, nor seizure critical voices. Adopting a separate norm, stipulating the public interest, will offer Kazakh journalists greater freedom to report with loyalty to citizens without stepping on a venture of devastating lawsuits.
Furthermore, the statue of limitations for defamation cases needs to be decreased from the existing three to one year after the publication date. It is also essential to establish a statue of limitations for civil cases that concern the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation.
According to Artemyev, a state fee to file a civil lawsuit must be reasonably increased. “A fee of 865 tenge (about US$6) is disproportionately small, compared to the excessive multi-million amounts being claimed in moral damages.”
In 2012, Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan and Open Society Foundation's London Media Program supported Adil Soz Foundation's project "Liberalization of Media Legislature A Coalition Article 20," aims to introduce changes to national legislature in compliance with the international standards for press freedom and freedom of expression.
Borrowing its name from the Constitutional amendment on freedom of the press, the Coalition Article 20 unites 12 human rights organizations, including the leading national civil society activists, such as Adil Soz Foundation, International Center for Journalism MediaNet, Center for Supporting Journalists Minber, North-Kazakhstan Legal Media Center, National Association of Broadcasters of Kazakhstan, Internews Kazakhstan, Kazakhstani International Bureau for Human Rights and Lawenforcement, etc.