Johar Utebekov: Terrorists do not give hoot about citizenship

Kazakhstan is planning to expand the list of punishments for people who break the law (or allegedly break the law) and to introduce a new norm – deprivation of citizenship rights for Kazakh citizens. The bill created by the Kazakh ministry of justice with this new norm introduced was published with an open access and stirred a big scandal.

Society’s stormy reaction to the bill is understandable. There turned out to be too many ways for one to lose their citizenship, and many of them have a clear political subtext. In essence, the regime is reviving a well-known Stalinist-era category of “enemies of people”.

After society’s loud reaction, ministry of justice will add some revisions to the project, and we have its new (third already) version recently. We asked Kazakh lawyer Johar Utebekov, about what  has been erased, what was kept and why does regime even needed to bring up this new norm.

– Johar, in your opinion how and why did the ministry of justice come up with the idea of depriving Kazakhstanis of their citizenship rights?

– In March of 2017, article 10 of the constitution of Kazakhstan was updated with the following norm: “Depriving of citizenship is only possible with court’s decision for committing terror crimes as well as for causing other serious damage to the vital interests of Republic of Kazakhstan”. Until now, constitution directly prohibited depriving of citizenship rights.

The “initiator” (in parentheses, since it likely wasn’t his idea) of this norm is senator Georgiy Kim, in a concise way called it the “answer to the growing threat of terrorism”. There were no clear explanations from the deputies to the people.

Ministry of justice, as a creator of the bill on making laws conform with the new revision of the constitution has no choice, but to invent concrete grounds for depriving people of citizenship.

– As a lawyer, what is your evaluation of this idea? To what extent is it legally correct?

– It is completely unjustified, even if only from the criminological point of view. It is doubtful, that terrorist who are going away on a suicide mission will suddenly be scared of losing citizenship. So, as far as fighting terrorism, there will be no effect, while the authority of the government among population will fall again. Disappointment in the effectiveness of government policy, freezing in all spheres of life and ideological vacuum are in fact the strongest driver for increases in numbers of terrorists.

– What are some of the more odious definitions, that were removed from the bill, due in part to live discussion of these revisions on your page on social network?

– Initially, based on proposal from the committee of national security, ministry of justice was going to directly introduce a separate article 184-1 in the criminal code of KR about serious harm to the vital interests of the republic. Such a vague definition is insane and creates associations with Stalinist article 58 for enemies of people. In addition, the creator decided to introduce in this article a punishment in the form of death penalty. The humor is in the fact that it contradicts the very constitution, which in peaceful times only allows death penalty for terror acts that lead to people dying.

In the sanctions of selected crimes, depriving of citizenship was only included as a punishment that court was required to issue with the establishment of court sentence.

After my publication on the issue questionable developments, on Facebook, turbulent public disapproval in media took place. By noon, ministry of justice already successfully deleted the bill from its website and portal “electronic government”. Late at night, ministry published a new revision of the bill, in which there was no longer a separate article about the punishment for serious harm to vital interests of the regime. Moreover, court got an opportunity to administer citizenship depriving on its own discretion, considering the circumstance of the case.

On the other hand, another unpleasant surprise appeared in the new revision of the bill. One of the grounds for depriving someone of citizenship was proposed to be article 174 of the criminal code creating social, ethnic or religious strife, which is often used for persecuting of dissidents (analogous to article 282 of Russian criminal code). After my criticism, ministry of justice successfully excluded this article from the list of ones “causing serious harm to vital interests of the Republic”.

– How do you evaluate revisions that were left to stay in the bill?

– Positively, as much as it is possible. Kazakh constitution was changed without our calls for it. The public is only with the option for harm reduction. It is pretty good at it though. For example, in the last revision of the bill, depriving of citizenship is only proposed to be for certain serious terrorist, extremist and other crimes. This signifies government’s rollback into initial positions.

– Is depriving of citizenship even humane in your opinion? Do you know any examples of this is practice of other countries?

– No. It is very uncommon for developed countries to practice deprivation of citizenship. If such a practice exists, then it applies only for naturalized citizens, while Kazakhstan decided to spread this even on people, who were citizens since birth. Another globally accepted conditions is the possession of another citizenship by individual, while Kazakhstan doesn’t recognize dual citizenship. While the rest of the world takes measures to decrease apartheid, Kazakhstan decided to take the reverse position and increase it.

– Thanks for you comments.

..Our editing team wants to note that the new third revision of the bill includes citizenship loss for terror acts as well as such crimes as mercenary work, attacks on the acting president and (in separate article) on elbasy, etc. The last article, just like article 174, carries a distinctly political character.


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