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Twenty-two IFEX members led by Kazakh member Adil Soz have written to Kazakhstan's Parliamentarians urging them to decriminalise libel and adopt other amendments to the country's media laws.

A government draft law developed by the Ministry of Culture and Information makes no changes to the current legislation, overlooking entirely the recent proposals made by media groups and NGOs, say the IFEX members.

Libel is still a criminal offence, and offences against honour and dignity "provide special protection for public officials," according to the IFEX members. The law will "threaten the financial existence of mass media organisations and their responsibility to report the truth," say the members.

Under the current media legislation, the authorities also have the right to seize equipment and close down media offices without a court ruling as punishment for "administrative infringements."

Registration of mass media in Kazakhstan still does not meet Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) standards in the draft - an irony, considering Kazakhstan will take over as OSCE chair in 2010 and vowed to reform restrictive press laws as part of this duty.

A crackdown on minority religious groups and missionaries - who must also register and have local authorities approve their religious literature - has resulted in a number of deportations from the country, says Human Rights Watch.

"We believe that the people of Kazakhstan are entitled to progressive laws according to the principles of free speech laid out in the Constitution. We consider that work on improving the legislation on mass media should be managed in an open and democratic manner," say the IFEX members.

To read the letter, see:

For more on the proposed amendments, see Human Rights Watch's report, "An Atmosphere of Quiet Repression: Freedom of Religion, Expression and Assembly in Kazakhstan":

(7 January 2009)

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