Opposition Web sites shut down in Kazakhstan

By: vessy on 28 October 2007

Four opposition news Web sites in Kazakhstan were temporarily blocked during the last weeks. The oil-rich Central Asian country with strong ambitions to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009 has tightened the leash on the Internet in another move to crack down freedom of speech.

On October 18, 2007, three sites (www.kub.kz, www.zonakz.net and www.geo.kz) were shut down. Shortly thereafter www.inkar.info was inaccessible to users as well. It has been conjectured that the possible motive for the blocking is that the sites posted transcripts of telephone conversations of high-ranking Kazakh officials related to the Aliev’s case. Rakhat Aliyev is the former son-in-law of the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbaev. Formerly a close member of Nazarbayev’s inner circle and senior official, Mr. Aliev is now sought by Kazakh police on kidnapping and illegal financial activities charges. Allegedly, someone related to Mr. Aliev posted the information in the sites’ chat rooms to tarnish the image of the Kazakh president and his administration. Shortly after the posting the four Web sites were shut down. The Kazakh government has denied any involvement in the blocking. The state-controlled Internet provider in the country, KazakhTelecom, has not been available for comments.

For a short time, the sites were accessible before a new blow of “political censorship” in the country. On October 24, the technical support for two main opposition news sites (www.kub.kz, www.geo.kz) was suspended, thus rendering the sites unavailable to Internet users. The Web sites were shut down without a notice following the written order of the Kazakh Agency for Information and Communications. The Agency states in a letter to the Kazakh domain name registry that these web sites, hosted abroad, are violating the laws and need to be shut down. As a justification for this measure, the Agency points out provisions in its own Rules introduced in April 2005 (here in Russian) stating that every .kz site shall be hosted in the country. Bloggers and journalists condemned the Agency’s order viewing it as a demonstration of officials’ fear of criticism.

The ONI has verified that the contents of the two sites were still accessible at other IP addresses in the country (kub.info and geokz.com respectively) through proxies.