The lower house of the Kazakhstan parliament [official website] approved a constitutional amendment Wednesday to expand the powers of President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website]. The bill, which deems Nazarbayev "leader of the nation," grants immunity for acts carried out while in office. It also makes it illegal [NAKT report] to deface images of Nazarbayev, distort the facts of his biography, or publicly insult him. The bill's introduction came just a month after the president of neighboring Kyrgyzstan [JURIST news archive] was ousted in violent protests [JURIST report] The bill must now be approved by the upper h.ouse of parliament and signed by Nazarbayev before becoming law. Nazarbayev, the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, has no term limit under the country's constitution [text].
Kazakhstan has come under increased scrutiny as the first former Soviet republic to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) [official website], a role it assumed at the beginning of 2010. In March Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] published a report criticizing the government [JURIST report] for failing to curb torture. In February, Kazakh non-governmental organizations asked [submission, PDF] the UN Human Rights Council [official website] to address instances of torture and the use unlawful evidence obtained through torture during trial. In August, Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] condemned a Kazakh high court decision upholding the conviction [JURIST report] of a journalist charged with publishing state secrets. In December, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] said that the former Soviet nation is falling short [JURIST report] on reforms promised in advance of their assumption of the OSCE chairmanship.