And this is what Human Rights Watch told about freedom of expressions in its December 2008 report titled "An Atmosphere of Quiet Repression:
In Kazakhstan, journalists operate in an environment of anxiety, faced with constant intimidating lawsuits and, not infrequently, direct threats to their person. Libel continues to be a criminal, rather than a civil, offense and carries stiff penalties. Even when journalists do not admit to outright self-censorship, they speak privately of the tightly regulated environment and topics they do not dare to cover. Threatening phone calls, visits by the police, and successive lawsuits are common. There are no independent television stations, and websites critical of the government are often blocked by the authorities.Yet let's not just focus on one single dimension. But since I am no expert on Kazakhstan, I should point to last year's special issue of the academic journal Security and Human Rights on the upcoming Kazakh OSCE chairmanchip that is worth reading for anyone interested.
In one of the articles of this issue, Freedom House programme manager Jeff Goldstein asks a question that I find quite relevant:
"The importance of who holds the Chairmanship was brought home during the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, when the Chairman-in-Office, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, travelled to Georgia, met with the parties and strongly criticized Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.This is just one of the possible questions to be asked, and I suppose that the next year will be a very interesting year for the OSCE.
Would a Kazakhstani Chairman-in-Office have done the same?"
It is good that for the first time a former Soviet Union country takes over the presidency, but Kazakhstan will have to prove that they can serve all dimensions of the OSCE, including peace in Europe and the protection of human rights and civil freedoms.
In any case, the Kazakh chairmanship shows that organising human security in Europe is not limited to EU countries, and that joining forces in pan-European organisations has to be possible under the leadership of Western as well as under Eastern European countries (and beyond), a fact many in the EU tend to forget.
Update (01/01/2010): There is now the press release for the start of the Kazakh presidency, and the Chairman-in-office website has also been updated.