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Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev

Kazakhstan is using "increasingly elaborate and aggressive methods to stamp out" dissenting voices on the Internet and social media, Amnesty International warns.

Kazakh authorities are using increased powers provided by recent legislation to "to shut down or block access to particular websites," the London-based group said in a report issued on February 9.

It said President Nursultan Nazarbaev's government is also using court rulings in criminal and administrative cases to target people "for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."

The report cited the cases of human rights defenders Maks Bokaev and Talgat Ayan, who were detained in May 2016 after posting information about antigovernment protests against changes to the Central Asian country's Land Code.

The two were sentenced to five years in prison each after being found guilty of inciting social discord, spreading knowingly false information, and violating the law regulating public assemblies.

Amnesty International considers both men to be prisoners of conscience.

Nazarbaev has ruled Kazakhstan since before it gained independence in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mykola Semena as been charged with separatism and may be sentenced to five years in prison if convicted for an article he wrote on his blog that was critical of Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

A date has been set for the high-profile trial of journalist Mykola Semena in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Semena's lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, told RFE/RL on February 8 that preliminary hearings into the case will be held by the Zaliznychnyy district court in Simferopol on February 17.

Kurbedinov said the actual trial for Semena, an RFE/RL contributor, will start on February 28.

Semena has been charged with separatism and may be sentenced to five years in prison if convicted for an article he wrote on his blog that was critical of Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Semena denies the charges.

He is currently under a court order from occupying Russian officials that bars him from leaving Crimea and forces him to seek permission before traveling outside the region's capital, Simferopol.

The United States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and international media watchdogs have expressed concern over Semena's case, which activists say is part of a Russian clampdown on independent media and dissent in Crimea.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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