The upper house of the Kazakhstan parliament [official website] approved a constitutional amendment on Thursday to expand the powers of President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website]. The bill, which was introduced to the parliament just last week, was approved [JURIST report] by the lower house of parliament on Wednesday, and now needs only the president's signature to become law. Nazarbayev would be given a significant amount of power [RFE/RL report] under the amendment, including being named the "leader of the nation." In addition, Nazarbayev would receive immunity from investigation or prosecution for life. The bill would make it illegal to deface images of him, distort facts of his biography, or publicly insult him and would guarantee that all his property and holdings cannot be confiscated for any reason. Nazarbayev's supporters believe that the president has earned such protections due to his ability as a nation builder. Opponents have urged the president not to sign the bill [AP report]. Nazarbayev has been linked to criminal activities in the past that can no longer be investigated, including laundering money out of the country and the killing of political opponents.
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 of 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 2009, 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.