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Update on WordPress woes in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Written by on Friday, 24 June 2011
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Media and Internet
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The KazakhTelecom building in Almaty. Photograph by neweurasia's Schwartz (CC-usage).

The KazakhTelecom building in Almaty. Photograph by neweurasia's Schwartz (CC-usage).

We are now entering the third weekend of whatever crisis has befallen WordPress in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately, there’s not much to report, as the situation remains unchanged, if odd (why can only Opera users access WordPress?) [Ed.: Finally, some clarification. Note the comment below by "anon":

The Opera browser working query is relatively simple - IF you have enabled their “Turbo” mode, all content is loaded via the company’s servers, and sent to you. A bit like how a proxy server works really, but with a few bells and whistles (image compression etc.). You can get wordpress.com and blogger/blogspot blogs to load in IE/Chrome/Firefox etc if you use a proxy server, though I’d be careful posting anything you don’t want traced back to you, as free proxy servers could be run by anyone at all.]

I’ve asked another large WordPress-enabled blogging site in the region whether they’re having problems but have not yet received a reply. The internal forum for WordPress users is also unhelpful. I filed a query with the WordPress organization itself today, now waiting for a reply (I’m not holding out hope — it’s not as if Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are high on the list of priorities, unfortunately). Kazakhtelecom has so far not responded to enquiries about the service interruption.

Meanwhile, the spam-attack on neweurasia has slowed over the course of the week, but it’s nonetheless steep: as of today we’ve had 1231 spam comments since Monday. Doesn’t sound like a denial-of-service attack to me, but our bloggers in the region are still reporting lethargic interactivity from our platform, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we had another 850+ blow-up beginning tomorrow. [Ed.: This indeed did occur, and as of Monday, we are at nearly 2000 hits. Yet, once more note the comment below by "anon":

The spam issue you’re encountering may well be unrelated - I get more spam than that each week, and I doubt you have lower visitor stats than me! I’d take a look at the code wp-blackcheck (a WordPress plug-in) uses, you might find it can be implemented here to stop most common forms of spamming before they start using your resources too much.]

It’s worth noting that WordPress’ problems follow fast on the heels of Google’s flirtation with exile from Kazakhstan, which might cast some light on the situation. According to Google’s official blog, the Ministry of Communication and Information issued a new order requiring all .kz domain names, including google.kz, to operate on servers located within the country. While Google was subsequently notified of a new rule stating that the order does not apply to previously registered domains, it’s possible that WordPress has nonetheless fallen subject to the regulation.

Nevertheless, at least one blogger in Kazakhstan, Abay Otar, is of the belief that KazakhTelecom is actively suppressing the platform:

I think its hand of @TelecomKZ But they do not want to choose this problem. We, especially I need that they have to answer for this

Indeed, an academic colleague of mine specialized in all things “cyber” remarked to me the other day,

Smells like a three day old trout. Methinks someone doesn’t like to hear the truth – or doesn’t like others reporting it.

And a comrade from Uzbekistan sarcastically notes over Facebook:

awww what shame on KZ & KG internet-enemy-governments and their marionette internet providers! look at us — an armada of the happiest 28 mln Uzbeks enjoy direct and not censored access to WordPress.

I made this ongoing situation, including the Kyrgyz parliament’s recent resolution to ban Ferghana.ru, the focus of today’s “Our Take” editorial by our sister site Transitions Online:

How should we interpret these events? In the case of Kyrgyzstan, avoiding hard facts is by no means a new phenomenon. There is a precedence for shooting the messenger: the current proposal specifically targets the URL address http://www.fergananews.com. The agency’s well-known regular address, http://www.ferghana.ru, had previously been banned in March 2010, alongside Azattyk, Centrasia, Belyi Parus, and the blog of Edil Baisalov, due to reports linking the Italian Mafia to a financial consultant with ties to the administration of then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

As for Kazakhstan, the country’s shameful* track record on freedom of speech suggests there is more to the WordPress troubles than technical issues, or even the proprietary and regulatory arguments that were used against Google. If Kyrgyzstan’s censorship methods are brazen and rather old-fashioned, Kazakhstan’s may be more subtle and sophisticated.

None of this bodes well for freedom of speech in the region. Then again, freedom of speech has always been subject to Sisyphus’ curse in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, as well as equally paranoid Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. What is of potential broader concern is how this reflects broader fears of the Internet’s gradual fragmentation into national networks, each with their own distinct content, culture, and most of all, legal-technical architecture and taboos. The rest of the world should be on guard against what is happening in Central Asia.

* Author’s Note: I didn’t choose the adjective “shameful”, my editor did. I think Kazakhstan is actually better on free speech than most of its neighbors. Yet, better is also not necessarily the same as good. So, I would have preferred “inconsistent”. Check out IREX’s 2011 Media Sustainability Index assessment for Kazakhstan here.

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