Kazakhstan abolishes death penalty

Kazakhstan has formally abolished the death penalty, making permanent a nearly 20-year freeze on capital punishment in the country. The move leaves Belarus and Tajikistan as the only remaining countries in emerging Europe and Central Asia which have so far failed to fully put an end to the internationally-condemned practice.

Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has signed a decree abolishing the death penalty in the Central Asian country, according to a statement released by his office on January 2.

The statement said the president had signed off on parliamentary ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a document that commits signatories to the abolition of capital punishment.

Reprieve for Ruslan Kulekbayev

Kazakhstan signed the Second Optional Protocol in September of last year. President Tokayev had previously announced that his country would join the protocol in his speech at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in December 2019.

The new law makes permanent an existing moratorium on state executions, in place since 2003, introduced by the then president Nursultan Nazarbayev.


Kazakhstan had nevertheless retained the death penalty for terrorism-related offences, although the only death sentence since 2003 had been for mass murderer Ruslan Kulekbayev, who shot and killed eight police officers and two civilians during a rampage in the country’s largest city Almaty in 2016. He will now serve a life sentence.

While the law in Tajikistan still allows for the use of the death penalty, the nation has not reported any executions since 2004, when a moratorium on the application of death sentences was declared. Before the ban, in the three years between 2000 and 2003, 133 executions are believed to have been carried out in the country.

Belarus now an outlier

Even in Belarus the situation appears to be changing. Whereas at least two people are known to have been executed in 2019, in June of last year the Belarusian Supreme Court reversed a death sentence for the first time ever, in the case of a young man from the city of Babruysk.

Belarusian human rights activist Andrey Paluda referred to the reversal as “a historic moment”.

Numerous international bodies, including the European Union, have repeatedly called on the Belarusian government to formally join the international moratorium on capital punishment on multiple occasions, but without success.

Calls for an end to the death penalty have been a regular demand of the Belarusian opposition, which has been protesting on the streets of the capital Minsk since a rigged presidential election in August saw incumbent Alexander Lukashenko implausibly claim 80 per cent of the vote.

Svetlana Tikanovskaya, the leader of the opposition who almost certainly defeated Mr Lukashenko in the election, has vowed to end the practice should she become the country’s president.

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