Thursday, August 21, 2014


Tangled Web

Ahead Of Elections, Kazakhstan Blocks Websites

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev is unlikely to be unseated
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev is unlikely to be unseated
It's election season in Kazakhstan and the government isn't risking an Arab-style revolt (a very unlikely prospect anyway). But to play it safe, in recent weeks the Kazakh authorities have increased web censorship in the Central Asian country. 

Last week our bureau in Almaty noticed that some RFE/RL sites (including our Kazakh, Russian, and English-language sites) were not accessible for those who connect through the biggest ISPs -- KazTeleCom and Nursat, which are closely associated with the state.

"It was first noticed on Monday morning [February 21] at 8:30 a.m. local time when our senior web editor came to work and couldn't access our own website from his work computer," the head of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service Yedige Magauin said.

"All of our sites were inaccessible, with short breaks of 15-20 minutes when there was access. Those 'breaks' repeatedly happened almost every 40-60 minutes. The same picture is being reported from our correspondents in south of the country. In western parts of Kazakhstan, no problem was reported at this point."

Our bureau staff also had problems accessing the BBC Russian website, the K-Plus TV station, and the opposition newspaper "Respublika" (which has been blocked for a while.)

This has happened before. A Kazakh NGO, For The Free Internet, announced on January 27 that at least 14 websites had been blocked by the Kazakh government, including opposition media outlets and some social networks. (For a full list click here.)

According to For The Free Internet, the websites were blocked by KazTeleCom, Kazakhstan's major Internet provider. In April 2010, KazTeleCom blocked access to two opposition publications often critical of the government. And RFE/RL's Kazakh website was blocked in 2008. The Kazakh government denied responsibility and the blockage persisted for over seven weeks.

In 2009, Kazakhstan adopted controversial amendments to its Law on Information and Communications Networks. Essentially that meant that all websites, including blogs and social network sites, are considered "mass media" giving the authorities wider legal powers to prosecute "offending" parties.

An RFE/RL staffer from the bureau went to the headquarters of Nursat last week and met with the head of the company's tech department, who denied any blockage on their part. They promised to send their technicians to check the situation, but failed to. In subsequent reporting, an unnamed source in Nursat's technical department admitted to RFE/RL that the company is "blocking" the websites and that they "have to obey their bosses."

Magauin, the head of our service, speculated that: "One possibility is it is believed that a big portion of Azattyq's [RFE/RL's Kazakh Service] audience in Kazakhstan are office workers, including officials, who access our website from their workplace." KazTeleCom and Nursat mainly provide connections to offices and government buildings, whereas household connections, which are generally serviced by a different KazTeleCom subsidiary, have not been disrupted.

With Internet shutdowns in Egypt and Libya, it's possible also that the Kazakh authorities are testing their shutdown capabilities, via the ISPs. Or maybe, ahead of the April 3 presidential election which the incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev is going to win by a mile, they're just trying to frustrate users interested in accessing the site, without being accused of actually blocking anything.

This kind of selective filtering is consistent with Kazakhstan's past practices and the assessment by the OpenNet Initiative:

The government has established systems to monitor and filter Internet traffic. Since the traffic of all first-tier ISPs goes through KazakhTelecom’s channels, surveillance and filtering is centralized. The ONI suspects that state officials informally ask KazakhTelecom to filter certain content.

[…]

The government has established systems to monitor and filter Internet traffic. Since the traffic of all first-tier ISPs goes through KazakhTelecom’s channels, surveillance and filtering is centralized. The ONI suspects that state officials informally ask KazakhTelecom to filter certain content.

Don't, however, expect a youth-and-social-media fueled revolution any time soon in Kazakhstan. Not only does Nazarbaev have a firm grip on power, but the opposition is weak and divided. Bruce Pannier, one of RFE/RL's Central Asia experts, paints a fairly gloomy picture.

According to him, there have been some trickle-down benefits to create and sustain an emerging middle class in the oil-rich country, which has provided a degree of stability (especially when compared to Kazakhstan's less stable neighbors to the south). Logistically, as Pannier points out, Kazakhstan is a huge country with a population of only some 16 million and with few compact urban areas such as Almaty and Astana. So upheaval -- regardless of any Internet filtering activity on behalf of the government -- looks very unlikely.

Tags: Kazakhstan,filtering

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Michael from: Astana
March 03, 2011 13:52
I think what could be a good alternative for the readers when the website is not available is to have full articles in the RSS feeds. There are several blogs I cannot access directly in Kazakhstan, but easily get access to them via google reader as a RSS feed reader. I would really like if RFERL was also posting full articles to their RSS feed. It would definitely help those people who can't access them via the website.

by: JEC from: Washington
March 09, 2011 01:19
Maybe these recent events will demonstrate the utility of "old-fashioned" shortwave broadcasting as the internet is too dependent on government, first family, or crony-controlled ISPs.

About This Blog



Written by Luke Allnutt, Tangled Web focuses on the smart ways people in closed societies are using social media, mobile phones, and the Internet to circumvent their governments and the efforts of less-than-democratic governments to control the web. 
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