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Kazakh Leader Signs Law Curbing Internet


Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev
ALMATY (Reuters) -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has signed into law new controls on the Internet that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called repressive, local activists said on July 13.

The OSCE, which Kazakhstan will chair next year, had earlier urged Nazarbaev to veto the bill. The legislation will allow local courts to block websites, including foreign ones, and to class blogs and chatrooms as media.

But Kazakhstan pressed ahead with the new law, with local rights activists confirming the legislation had been endorsed by the powerful president.

"Nazarbayev signed it last Friday," Sofya Lapina, a media rights activist, told Reuters on July 13.

"We had hoped he would veto it and wrote letters to him but that has not been taken into account."

The Central Asian state says the law was aimed at preventing unrest and protecting people's rights.

"There are different points of view regarding this law," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayev told reporters on July 13. "The Foreign Ministry...will take all the necessary measures to explain to our OSCE partners and experts at that organization...what were the reasons behind this law."

Several websites, including the popular blogging service, were already inaccessible to most Kazakh users.

In 2007, a court gave a pro-opposition blogger a suspended jail sentence for insulting Nazarbaev.

Lapina said there already were signs of increasing self-censorship by local websites where moderators were quickly removing comments that could be deemed offensive. "On some websites, commenting on 'hot' topics has been disabled," she said.

Visitors of a popular local news website expressed different views on the new law with some hoping it would curb pornography and piracy. But others were critical.

"Great! Let's now ban everything except for [state-run TV channels] Kazakhstan-1 and Khabar," an anonymous user wrote.

Kazakhstan has been hit hard by the global crisis after a decade of economic boom. Some economists expect the former Soviet republic's oil-dominated economy to shrink this year.

Growing unemployment coupled with falling incomes have caused rising popular discontent with the government, although there have been no large-scale public protests.

The Internet has increasingly become a tool for opposition activists in many countries to voice criticism of their leaders and to organize protests, most recently in Iran following June's disputed presidential elections.