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Controversial Kazakh Bill Allowing Blocking Of Social Networks Passes First Hurdle

A session of the Mazhilis in Nur-Sultan
A session of the Mazhilis in Nur-Sultan

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhstan's lower chamber of parliament, the Mazhilis, has approved the first reading of a bill that would allow the blocking of social networks and messaging apps if their owners fail to establish local offices in the Central Asian country.

According to a bill amending the law on the protection of children's rights, which was approved in its initial reading on September 15, foreign social networks and messaging services would be obliged to register in Kazakhstan and set up local offices to receive permission to operate in the country.

The bill still faces two further readings in parliament, and then must be approved by the legislature's upper chamber, the Senate, before it is signed into law by President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev.

Companies affected will have six months to register in Kazakhstan and open local offices once the bill becomes law.

The bill was initiated by Mazhilis lawmakers Aidos Sary and Dinara Zakieva, who also proposed allowing regulators to block websites without a court ruling.

The leadership of the tightly controlled former Soviet republic has been concerned over anti-government rallies in recent years organized via Facebook and other social networks by the leader of the banned Democratic Choice Of Kazakhstan movement, Mukhtar Ablyazov, who lives in the European Union.

International human rights groups have said that Kazakhstan frequently blocks or restricts assessment to social networks. Freedom House in its annual report on the level of the Internet freedom in the world, defined Kazakhstan as a "not free" country.

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