The journalists said that at recent meetings with Culture and Information Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbaev, the minister had recommended they not publish material based on audio recordings of top officials' conversations.
The meetings came after several opposition websites during the past month posted reports or audio recordings of purported phone conversations by current or former government officials that included discussions of illegal or unethical activities. The source of the recordings has not been established, although many believe they came from the Kazakh president's estranged former son-in-law and ex-national security deputy director, Rakhat Aliev.
Same Meeting, Different Versions
Yertysbaev said he called the meetings to seek consensus over the limits of free speech on Kazakh websites. He said the independent media representatives who came, whom he called "sensible people," agreed to certain rules about posting articles on the Internet.
But participants say it felt more like they were being browbeaten over what they can and cannot cover, and that Yertysbaev said authorities should more tightly regulate the Internet.
The editors of at least three opposition newspapers, "Respublika," "Taszharghan," and "Vzglyad," told their readers on November 16 that the Yertysbaev's recommendations were "an attempt to interfere in editorial policy."
The head of the Kazakh Union of Journalists, Seitkazy Mataev, said that Yertysbaev was attempting to exert "censorship" by pressuring the media not to publish materials based on "audio recordings of telephone conversations of high-ranking Kazakh officials."
"In this case, he is speaking about 'civilized regulation' and about how there should be no violation of the law on the Internet and so on and so forth," said Sergei Duvanov, editor in chief of the inkar.info website, which was among those that carried the audio recordings.
"In fact, this is of course simply elementary demagoguery. Former Ambassador to Austria Aliev is against President [Nursultan] Nazarbaev. These events brought the authorities to the point where it is necessary [for them] to regulate or close [access to] the Internet," Duvanov told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.
The newspaper "Kazakh Today" quoted Yertysbaev as telling journalists that the "rules of behavior in Kazakhstan's virtual space should be clearly specified."
Yertysbaev reportedly said Internet content providers should be liable to "criminal punishment."
Yertysbaev told a state-run newspaper, "Kazakhstanskaya pravda," last week that the Internet needed to be under government regulation and that his ministry was already drafting the appropriate legislation.