NUR-SULTAN -- Foreign and Kazakh legal professionals recently convened online to discuss strengthening Kazakh courts' ability to hear extremism and terrorism cases.
Representatives of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and Kazakhstan's Supreme Court, with funding support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), held an online discussion August 20.
Ninety specialists, including judges, lawyers and representatives of law enforcement agencies and international organisations, took part in the discussion.
The keynote speakers were international: John Tunheim, a US district court judge who has worked with the United Nations Security Council to reform terrorism prosecution in South Asia; and Pavel Goncharov, an Estonian judge.
Terrorism and the rule of law
Abdrashid Zhukenov, chairman of the criminal chamber of the Kazakh Supreme Court, discussed strategies adopted by Kazakhstan to effectively combat terrorism and extremism.
"New challenges demand an appropriate response, in terms of both legislation and judicial practice. In recent years, we have strengthened criminal liability for terrorism and extremism and for the dissemination of radical ideologies," he said.
The government is empowered to revoke the citizenship of Kazakhs convicted of terrorism, he said, referring to a 2017 law.
The judges from Kazakhstan, the United States and Estonia described judicial practice in their countries when it comes to terrorism and extremism.
"Terrorism has touched Kazakhstan in past years, with terrorist acts being committed in Atyrau, Aktobe and Almaty. We systematically study and summarise terrorism cases, and as a result, courts no longer have problems when hearing such cases," said Yerden Aripov, a Kazakh Supreme Court judge.
In the first seven months of this year, Kazakh courts heard 33 terrorism-related cases, the majority of which had to do with propaganda, he said.
Tunheim, the American judge, addressed the differences between the terms "extremism" and "terrorism", actions to counter radicalisation in the United States and the particular features of the American justice system.
"Depending on the severity of the offence related to terrorism, the maximum sentence can be the death penalty or life in prison. For minor offences, the penalty can be fines or probation," Tunheim said.
The majority of the international terrorism cases heard in the United States have to do with providing material support to terrorist groups, he added.
"All court hearings are open, unless they include classified information or involve minors," Tunheim said.
The attendees discussed the rendering of acquittals in criminal cases, including those related to terrorism.
"The public occasionally vilifies courts for the small number of acquittals. But we can explain [that rarity] by pointing out that cases that would lead to acquittals ... don't make it to trial," said Gulnara Mergenova, another Kazakh Supreme Court judge.
Goncharov compared the laws of Estonia and Kazakhstan and pointed out many similarities in those laws. He cited the minuscule proportion of acquittals in Russia: 0.3%.
Conclusions and evaluations
During the presentations, the attendees cited recommendations offered by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, during her official visit to Kazakhstan last year.
"The Supreme Court has a long-standing, productive relationship with USAID and the American Bar Association. Presenting international experience is very educational for Kazakh judges," Zhukenov said in closing remarks.
The topic of the roundtable "is a top priority in the co-operation between Kazakhstan and the United States", said Sholpan Tashmukhambetova, ABA ROLI's country director for Kazakhstan.
The roundtable serves as a platform for sharing expert opinions and best practices on countering violent extremism, said the US embassy in Nur-Sultan in a statement.
"We will study in depth all the proposals and concerns brought up during the event, and we will formulate concrete recommendations based on them," the Supreme Court said in a statement.
ABA ROLI works with partners in 60 countries to build sustainable institutions and societies that deliver justice, foster economic opportunity and ensure respect for human dignity.