NUR-SULTAN - Kazakhstan on Monday eased some restrictions on tightly-controlled public demonstrations but rights groups said they still fell short of international standards.
Until now, protesters in the energy-rich country needed to apply for permission to hold a rally, and permits for political demonstrations were almost never granted.
According to the legislation signed into law by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Monday, demonstrators should notify authorities in advance of a rally taking place in one or more of the areas designated by the authorities for holding protests.
It also barred foreigners from joining protests or organizing them.
Shortly after taking office last year, Tokayev pledged to reform the post-Soviet country's restrictive legislation on public assembly.
Yevgeniy Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, criticized the new law.
"There is nothing in international conventions on freedom of assembly about some sort of 'designated places'," he told AFP.
"There is either freedom to assemble or its lack," he said after parliament passed the bill last week.
Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, a U.N. envoy on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, said in April that parts of the new law "do not seem to be in line with international standards."
He called the notification process in the draft legislation "a de-facto approval procedure."
The draft law was also panned in late April by international rights groups in an open letter to the president.
It was repeatedly criticized by local civil society activists, who said a national emergency imposed over the coronavirus pandemic had further limited space to debate the legislation.
Tokayev, 67, has tried to position himself as a moderate reformer against the background of his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev's reign of three decades that saw regular crackdowns on opposition and the free press.
Nazarbayev, 79, hand-picked Tokayev as his successor after retiring from the presidency in March 2019 but retained key posts — notably the powerful chairmanships of the country's security council and ruling party.