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Kazakhstan blocks websites to battle religious extremism

Written by on Friday, 9 September 2011
Kazakhstan, Media and Internet

Thought President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s oil-rich Kazakhstan may be the wealthiest country in Central Asia – its Internet is certainly not the freest these days.

On August 19th, it was reported that Kazakh court decided block access to 13 foreign Internet sites. On September 2nd, TREND informed that at a court in Astana blocked “51 illegal foreign sites” due to unfavorable propaganda “promoting religious extremism and terrorism”, as quoted by Kazakhstan’s General Prosecutor’s Office.

And quite ironically, for a country seeming so anti-online media at the moment, Kazakh Communication and Information Minister Askar Zhumagaliev confirmed the closure of several web resources via Twitter.

Just before September 2nd, and a bit after bans were enforced on August 20th, Central Asia Online informed on August 30th that the new National Information and Propaganda Group on Religious Issues (RIPG) set out for an anti-extremism tour of Kazakhstan – Almaty and to the Northern Kazakhstan, Kyzylorda and Atyrau – “to explain the dangers of extremism to the public.”

Commenting on religion in Kazakhstan, Reuters says:

“Kazakhstan, where 70 percent of the 16.5 million population are Muslim, has so far avoided the militant Islamist violence that has hit ex-Soviet neighbors in Central Asia.”

EurasiaNet.org has a great outline of the threats and violence and links to terrorism that have all led up to this Internet blockade. Their article “Kazakhstan: Astana Confronts Extremist Threat”, published on September 6th 2011, EurasiaNet.org mentions the role of the Internet:

“They [arrested Terrorist suspects] are suspected of having links to an unnamed terrorist organization based in Pakistan and accused of making explosive devices using information downloaded from the Internet.”

EurasiaNet.org continues:

“Astana is already blocking 51 websites deemed to contain extremist content, including – controversially – the LiveJournal blogging forum.”

Reuters quotes Ailana Iskendirova, spokeswoman for the district court in the capital Astana, saying:

These Internet resources … including LiveJournal… spread materials with propaganda of terrorism and religious extremism and open calls to committing acts of terror and making explosive devices.”

TENGRI NEWS notes that “10 thousand websites are being monitored as of today”. The Russian-language blog platforms LiveJournal and LiveInternet were among the list of targeted websites created during this blockade rampage.

On September 2nd, Adil Soz (International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, in Almaty Kazakhstan) and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange quoted Svetlana Ivannikova, head of LiveJournal’s Russian branch, in their joint press release:

We are not aware of the court’s decision since we neither received any official document from the court nor saw any related details on the Court’s website. We have no idea what might be the reason for LiveJournal’s suspension. However if some blogs or sites are deemed to be disseminating information designed to stir up national hatred, or advocate violence, our response is always very fast. But I would like to repeat, we didn’t receive any official notification from the Kazakh authorities.”

Ivannikova highlights the resurfacing issue – why didn’t they just have LiveJournal administrators take down the propagandistic content?

On KZBLOG, written by ‘An American expat living in Astana’, Kazakhstan, the writer says:

I have a lot of friends on LJ and I have yet to see one open call to terrorism.”

But this isn’t the first time LiveJournal has been blocked. LiveJournal was blocked for two years, and then reopened in November 2010, only to be blocked again a short year later.

Reuters says:

“In October 2008, access to LiveJournal was blocked after Rakhat Aliyev, the fugitive former son-in-law of Nazarbayev who fell out with the veteran leader, started his own blog on the site which contained scathing criticism of the government.”

Global Voices blogger says “media tycoon” Aliyev was:

“… posting online wire-tapped telephone conversations of the higher government officials there.”

In this recent August 2011 website blockade, The Voice of Russia quotes Pavel Lebedev of ‘The World of Internet’ public foundation, saying:

Any web resource is place for communication. And it would be better to settle the issue with those who are running these blogs rather than imposing a ban on their pages. Such radical measures are justified only if there is a threat to national security. Remember the recent uprising in Africa: first of all, people were banned access to mobile services and Internet, and this was the right thing to do“.

Reporters Without Borders says:

We call for the withdrawal of the court’s order, which is using the pretext of defending internal security to completely block major blog platforms, thereby censoring a great deal of content that has nothing to do with what the order is supposed to be targeting. It is legitimate to combat terrorism, but this should not result in the closure of independent news websites.”

An online petition has surfaced as well as a Facebook group created.

Infowar Monitor: Tracking Cyberpower and OpenNet Initiative have both informed their audiences of the bans.

Global Voices blogger highlights that that Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov tweeted: “I will sort it out with LJ.” … but when?

Regardless of their limitations, may media and media people in Kazakhstan remain united in their goals toward a free press, just as the 19,000-circulation Kazakhstani oposition weekly newspaper Respublika has done – and continues to do.

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