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Kazakhstan: Internet Regulation Amendments Adopted in First Reading

Yesterday the Kazakh Parliament's lower chamber has approved the first reading of the draft law on online regulation, which is meant to equate all websites (including blogs, social networks, chatrooms, forums and even online shops) with mass media. On the other hand of this law, the authorities will be granted the right to block any local or foreign website for “violation of the national legislation”. The decision to block it would be issued by the general prosecutor, and approved by the city court of Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan. Many bloggers believe that the government wants a legal tool for filtering of the web. LiveJournal, a leading platform in the Russian-language blogosphere, is blocked in Kazakhstan since early October last year, and no official reasoning has been provided for that.

What is next? The president may veto the law on the eve of the country's OSCE chairmanship next year and, thus, polish his personal image. However, the government does not care much about OSCE – it neglects critical recommendations, citing “country specific”. The West also does not care much about Kazakh democracy against the background of global economic crisis. What will happen if the law is adopted? Internet is inherently unregulatable environment, and the people will use proxies, anonymizers and special software. Kazakhstan would join a team of enemies of the Internet – and the next possible step can be banning Tor-like programs, like in Uzbekistan, writes adam-kesher.

The protesting Internet users would possibly try to sabotage the work of state bodies – to apply for official registration and – immediately after obtaining it – close the blog and apply for deregistration. According to the draft law, the Astana city court would be making decisions on blockage of the foreign websites (at the request of the prosecutor’s office) in absentia of the website owners. So, the enthusiasts can also bring the owners of blocked websites to the court sessions. They can also paralize the work of the prosecutor’s office and/or court by numerous complaints on the content of tens of thousands porn-sites. If the government is to ban the websites that have paid membership (like LiveJournal, which is blocked in Kazakhstan since early October last year), the paid members would be able to challenge the court decision as it violates their rights.

So far, the bloggers are indignant at the novelties, introduced by the government and initially adopted by the one-party parliament. Rosvet, a professional journalist, is puzzled how the equation of blogs and mass media is going to work technically [ru]:

How is it going to work? Registration of a blog will require your passport details? The Ministry of information will issue a registration number to each blogger? Will I be obliged to provide copies of my blog entries to the local administration, like all newspapers are to do?

Uncle Shal, the veteran of the Kazakh blogosphere, comments [ru]:

The law is very raw. How seriously you can treat the law, which states: “It is not allowed to use a mass media outlet with the prupose of committing administrative or criminal offences”. You can replace the words “mass media outlets” with any other – “shoe”, “hammer”, “watercloset lid” – the meaning will not change! And how do you like the abstruse definition of an “Internet resourse”, and the consequent equation of all URLs with mass media? These are only few reproofs to the authors of this draft law…

Many bloggers are afraid that this law will be used to eliminate all kinds of dissent online. The state bodies will be able to post a provocative post or comment – and immediately file a complaint with the court or prosecutor's office. It should be noted that the online reprisals were already present in the Kazakhstan's history. Several years ago two most prominent Internet newspapers Kub.kz and Navigator.kz were banned by the authorities and legally denied the right to have a .kz domain. Last year, a young researcher was arrested and jailed on the basis of messages in his email box, which was hacked by the special services. Why the governement is so concerned about Internet? Megakhuimyak explains [ru]:

There are several reasons.
1. Bloggers are uncensored unlike journalists and editors. They always post and discuss leaks, rumors and truth
2. The whole world can read what was posted online. A newspaper's circulation can be arrested, a printing house can be shut down, a TV channel can be raided. All usual methods of repressions are useless online.
3. It is impossible to erase somebody else's content on the Internet.
4. Information is sent to the web instantly – there is no time to intercept it.
5. The West judges us by the Internet publications. The authorities want to have a nice look always.

Now the death of Kaznet [Kazakhstani segment of the world wide web] and guerrilla warfare against firewall should be expected. Up until recently only Livejournal users were fighting in this war – now the whole Kazakhstan will join.

Unfortunately, this anti-Internet campaign of the authorities further worsens the Kazakhstan's image, which has been the one of a most advanced and developed country in the Central Asian region. Bloggers sadly look at the other countries – like Zuzau, who is amazed [ru] by the photo-blog of President Obama on Flickr with high-res pictures, and tim-son reminds that while Livejournal is unofficially banned in Kazakhstan, the Russian president Medvedev opens his on this platform [ru]. Meanwhile, Katelka points out that the repressive draft law is spurring critical civil stand of the generally apathetic Kazakhstani citizens [ru]:

Just look what they have got now. I blogged in my personal cute online diary about beauty. Who would have ever thought that I will be posting political criticism here? Who made me do it? Exactly, the authorities. Don't meddle in my personal space!

The bloggers, media organizations, rights activists have signed a number of petitions to the state bodies and international organizations. They have held several flashmobs – like sending a shackled keyboard to the government, or a symbolic burial of the Internet. Several activists were arrested, having been accused of an unsanctioned rally. The most recent action is an online protest against the law – on May 13, from 3 to 4 p.m. all users are urged to leave all websites in the .kz zone.

Some observers still believe that the law will not be signed into force by the president. If it’s adopted, the court will have to provide public and valid explanation for the blockage – and the devil is in the detail.

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