(osce) - The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, has called for the removal of special insult laws in Kazakhstan which give elevated protection to State officials from verbal offence.
The plea follows a two-year suspended prison sentence handed down to Kazakh journalist Kazis Toguzbaev by an Almaty district court on January 22 for "Infringement on the honour and dignity of the President" under article 318 of the Criminal Code. The court judgement ruled that Toguzbaev, who published his articles on the website Trend.
"For the sake of free public discussion, public officials, especially Heads of State, should exercise a greater degree of tolerance towards criticism, even if that criticism is expressed in a negative or harsh manner," Haraszti said.
In a letter sent to Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin, Haraszti stressed that special insult laws, which give elevated protection to public officials from verbal offence, are contrary to modern democratic practice.
The OSCE Representative expressed regret that defamation laws in Kazakhstan could be further strengthened by new amendments under consideration by the Parliament.
"A reform that adheres to international standards, including those of the Council of Europe, would mean moving the handling of defamation offences from the criminal into the civil law domain," he said.
Toguzbaev's case bears a close resemblance to the July 2006 case of another Kazakh journalist, Zhasaral Kuanyshalin, who received a similar sentence for the same offence.