Caspian Region

Kazakhstan Abolishes the Death Penalty

The Caspian Post
Image: Roman Yanushevsky/Shutterstock

On December 23, 2021, the Kazakhstan Senate passed a law on the complete abolition of capital punishment. The bill was signed on December 29 by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. In some respects, the move might appear as little more than a formality since a moratorium on the death penalty has been in force in Kazakhstan since 2003. No cases have been registered since that year. However, the new law allowed Kazakhstan to make a significant international gesture by signing up on Jan 2, 2022, to the “Second Optional Protocol” of the 1966 “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” That might all sound a bit of a mouthful, but it’s essentially the legal document that underlines the global community’s commitment to eventually phase out the death penalty worldwide. The UN General Assembly adopted the protocol in December 1989.


Kazakhstan has reserved one small legal caveat, exceptionally allowing the emergency re-imposition of capital punishment at times of war.


Within the Caspian region, most other countries had already passed abolition legislation: Georgia (1997), Azerbaijan (1998), Turkmenistan (1999), Armenia (2003), Kyrgyzstan (2007) and Uzbekistan (2008). Russia currently has a moratorium and has not held a judicial execution since 1999, while Tajikistan maintains the possibility on its statutes but is not believed to have used the law for over a decade.


In contrast, Iran is thought to have one of the world’s highest rates of capital punishment, probably second only to China[1]. Exact figures are clouded by the fact that barely a third of executions are believed to be officially announced. However, the figure for those executed in Iran was estimated to be at least 267 in 2020 alone. Of these, some 79% of these (211 executions) were for charges of murder. One was based on charges related to running a politically-motivated social media channel. Another was for the consumption of alcohol. One was a public execution – that’s the lowest such statistic in 15 years if you’re searching for meagre silver linings. 




[1] Execution statistics for China are not available and are treated as state secrets, but are believed to be in the thousands. Statistics for Vietnam and North Korea are also opaque.