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Kazakhstan And The Cyber-Snitch

  • Bruce Pannier

Hundreds of websites have been blocked by the Kazakh authorities but the efforts of the government are apparently not enough. So, the Kazakh government is calling on citizens to get involved.

Hundreds of websites have been blocked by the Kazakh authorities but the efforts of the government are apparently not enough. So, the Kazakh government is calling on citizens to get involved.

It's no secret that social-network sites on the Internet are being abused and used for foul purposes. No country is immune to this problem.

Kazakhstan has been having its own problems, particularly with sites authorities in the country say are carrying extremist messages and content. Hundreds of websites have been blocked by the Kazakh authorities but the efforts of the government are apparently not enough. So, the Kazakh government is calling on citizens to get involved.

Reports from Kazakh media on August 12 noted that the Information and Communications Ministry has launched a new website. "Dear friends, literally in the last few days on the website of our ministry a complaints section has been launched, where any citizen can inform about information on the Internet that violates the laws of Kazakhstan," a statement from the ministry read.

Reports on the launch of the new section on the ministry's website say it is mainly intended to help the authorities locate "sites and groups on social networks that carry propaganda on suicides, narcotics, terrorism, extremism, acts of cruelty, interethnic strife, etc...."

Those accessing the site can choose from a list of categories that could be relevant to their "complaint."

The website promises the ministry will check complaints from citizens to see if there are indeed violations of the country's laws on the websites and social networks in question.

The ministry also promises to explain to the people of Kazakhstan the reasons for official decisions to block particular websites.

The idea of the new complaints page seems to have some merit.

Based on reporting from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq, it is clear the number of suicides has been increasing lately amid Kazakhstan's drastic economic downturn.

There have been instances of websites available in Kazakhstan that have been promoting extremist ideas or disseminating radical content.

On the other hand, absent from the statement of the Information and Communications Ministry is mention of a vetting process for the complainer. It is unclear whether those filing a complaint could be found and held accountable for providing false information to the ministry's website if their complaints turn out to be false.

That raises the question of possible abuse of the website of the Information and Communications Ministry.

In 2015 there were several cases of bloggers being arrested and convicted for violating Article 174 of the Criminal Code, which deals with the fomentation of social, national, tribal, racial, class, or religious hatred, and actions that insult national honor or dignity or the religious beliefs of citizens. It was not always clear if those convicted intended to incite or insult, and if their writings genuinely represented a violation of the law.

Some felt the government used the law to silence government critics. The new site launched by the Information and Communications Ministry could be used toward similar ends if not properly managed.

Could it be used for personal vendettas? That is also unclear. There have been numerous examples worldwide of people creating dummy accounts to disseminate information in someone else's name.

Another aspect worth mentioning: Can this move by the Information and Communications Ministry really help prevent violence such as that seen in Kazakhstan this year?

In early June, a group of young men in the western city of Aqtobe robbed a gun store and staged an armed attack that left several civilians and police dead, and ended with a shoot-out outside a military facility where most of the attackers were killed. Their motives are still not clear.

In July, a former convict killed several people in Almaty in revenge at having been imprisoned.

Kazakh authorities have ascribed both these incidents to terrorism, a designation some people question. But if they were indeed terrorist acts, in both cases a website such as that just launched by the Information and Communications Ministry would not have helped. There was no cyber-trail.

Yerzhan Karabek of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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