The director of an Astana-based think tank that advises the president of Kazakhstan has said that blocking access to "radical" websites is both justified and correct because of the threat from groups like Islamic State (IS).
Erlan Karin, the director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the president of Kazakhstan (KazISS), told Tengrinews.kz on December 9 that blocking access to such websites was a reasonable and effective way to combat information threats.
Referring to a recent video published by the IS group that showed Kazakh children at a training camp in Syria, Karin said that, "many people talk about the threat of terrorism and the problem of our citizens going to Syria, but only after the Internet has been stuffed with a series of videos and the last video with children do people start really asking the question: how did Kazakh children wind up there?"
The 15-minute video, titled "Race Toward Good," was shared online by Islamic State's Al-Hayat media wing on November 22. The video caused a great deal of shock and concern in Kazakhstan, and the government said it was illegal and that steps were being taken to ban its distribution in the country.
The video has heightened fears that Kazakh nationals are being radicalized and recruited by Islamic State. According to Kazakh intelligence, there are around 300 Kazakh nationals fighting in Syria with the IS group. Of these, around half are women, the chairman of the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB), Nurtai Abykaev, said in November.
Karin said that the "Kazakh child militant" video's distribution in Kazakhstan showed that the country was "not quite effective in countering the threat posed by certain groups."
The influence caused by the video was "a kind of information virus. But we don't have any kind of antivirus or immune system," Karin said.
According to Karin, the issue of information security is one that has to be tackled by the public as well as the government.
Could these new fears about the influence of IS propaganda on Kazakhstan's public be used to justify new crackdowns on Internet freedoms in the republic?
It is important to note that the moves by Kazakhstan to block websites began well before the release of the latest IS video featuring Kazakh nationals.
In April, new legislation was introduced that allows Kazakhstan to block social networks without a warrant. The grounds for blocking a site are broad and include bans on material that calls for unauthorized rallies, which Kazakhstan's Senate said was a response to an "acute problem of dissemination of false information."
The legislation refers to sites that encourage the spread of "information that violates legislation regarding elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan, that contains calls for extremist and terrorist activity and mass riots" and unsanctioned rallies. According to Almaty lawyer Jokhar Utebekov, the provision for blocking calls for "unauthorized rallies" was not part of the initial wording on the legislation but was added later.
There were claims that this law could have been used in November, when users in Kazakhstan complained that several popular social-networking sites including Facebook, Instagram, VKontakte, and WhatsApp were temporarily unavailable.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk