Surfing the Restricted Web in Kazakhstan

The internet in Kazakhstan is surprisingly restricted. Prior to coming here I set up a blog through Blogger, and then had to change the site when I found out the platform was often blocked in Kazakhstan. I obediently moved to Word Press, which has given me only limited problems. Primarily these problems are that the site for updating and posting new posts is ridiculously slow and blocked entirely in at least one of the locations where I frequently log onto the internet. My ability to view posts on WordPress seems to be unimpeded, but the section of the site used for registering new blogs may be blocked. I had to use a proxy server to set-up a new blog for one of the projects I am working on here, but now that the blog is set-up I can log-in without a proxy server.

In Summer 2009 President Nazarbayev signed a law that categorizes blogs, social media networks, and chatrooms as “mass media.” As a result criminal liability can be incurred for “improper use” of these and the government is able to block and even close websites. Subsequently, the government has exercised its powers in this area quite frequently.

Blogger and LiveJournal were blocked through a Kazakh court order this past August because they were deemed to be extremist. Prior to the issuance of this court order these sites had already been blocked on a number of occasions. “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,” Ailana Iskendirova, spokeswoman for the district court in the capital Astana, told Reuters. More recently Kazakhstan’s Prosecutor General’s office touted the blockage of 51 extremist websites. To this day I am not able to open any Blogger post in the country without a proxy server, although I have been able to open LiveJournal posts.  Just to be clear I am not against the blocking of websites the incite criminal activity, but the blocking of an entire blogging platform by the government is not a narrowly-tailored solution that neutralizes the extremist threat without infringing on the freedom of speech and access to information rights of internet users in Kazakhstan.

In addition to blogging platforms and extremist sites, the websites of independent and dissident voices also appear to be blocked. The website of opposition publication “Respublika” is blocked and I am told that the publication is so reviled by the government is has to be secretly printed and distributed on A4 printer paper.  On a related note, the root of the Kazakh government’s disdain for LiveJournal may be that Raxat Aliyev, the ex son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s president who is now a hardcore dissent-in-exile, once had a blog on the platform. Aliyev published a tell-all exposé that has been translated into English about the Kazakhstan government which includes the allegation that absolutely all of the internet in Kazakhstan is under government surveillance. Observers are split on whether the book is highly dramatized or an accurate portrayal of the situation here. Frankly, I am afraid to even Google the book for fear I find myself eternally on some “blacklist,” but I am sure you can find it if you are interested. According to Freedom House’s most recent “Freedom on the Net” report, the internet in Kazakhstan is subject to “substantial political censorship.” The group writes in its report, “In recent years, the government has blocked a popular blog-hosting platform and passed several pieces of legislation that restrict free expression online, particularly on topics that are deemed threatening to President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s power and reputation.”

Google has also had its fair share of issues regarding the internet in Kazakhstan. In addition to the blocking of its blogging platform Blogger, the site has also fought to prevent its searches from being routed through a server located in Kazakhstan.  Google alleged this would result in a “fractured internet.” Kazakhstan’s government announced in June that such routing would be mandatory, but later informed Google that this would only be the case for newly registered domains and therefore not affect the google.kz domain.

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