On September 21, 2012, a court in Kyrgyzstan ordered [ru] to block access to the infamous video “The Innocence of Muslims,” which had sparked protests and demonstrations around the world and led to the killing of four American diplomats in Libya.
In the small Central Asian republic, which is predominantly Muslim but has a strong secular heritage from the Soviet Union, the decision triggered lively debates on the country's online news portals.
The YouTube video which many Muslims around the world criticized as “anti-Islamic” and “offensive” had already been banned in several countries, including Egypt, Libya, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Philippines. Access to the film had also been blocked in Afghanistan.
The court ban came after the General Prosecutor's Office filed [ru] a claim on September 19 to declare the video as representing “extremist material” and to ban its distribution in Kyrgyzstan. Prior to the court ruling, the country's parliament also decreed [ru] to block access to the video.
Quoted in Kyrgyzstan's largest newspaper, Vecherniy Bishkek, Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a conservative MP in parliament's Ar-Namys faction stated [ru]:
Возможно, если мы как-то отреагируем, примем решение, то люди успокоятся и не станут устраивать акции протеста.
Perhaps, if we react somehow and make a decision, people will calm down and will not organize protests.
But a lack of any form of protest seems unlikely given that the same MP later announced [ru] via Twitter his intention to lead a demonstration against the video in front of the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan on September 25:
Пусть посол США не перживает.Все пройдет спокойно и законно! Согласно закону мы уведомили мэрию о мирной акции протеста 25 сентября в 11-00
The US ambassador has nothing to worry about. Everything will go peacefully and lawfully! As required by the law, we have notified the [Bishkek] Mayor's Office about the holding of a peaceful protest on September 25 at 11:00.
(N.B. Bakir Uulu was the subject of an earlier Global Voices article about the banning of short skirts in the national legislature. Underneath the article, a user called Tbakiruulu accused [ru] the author of not being objective and of “only providing reactions from idiots and clowns.”
The lawmaker also made headlines at the end of last year when he swore his lawmaker's oath on the Qur'an instead of the constitution, and when he urged the country's president-elect not to turn into a dragon).
Ban as a shortcut to popularity?
Another MP, Daniyar Terbishaliyev of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, speculated [ru] that restricting access to the video will trigger even more attention from Internet users:
Все, кто хотел посмотреть, посмотрел. Если мы введем запрет, то желающих посмотреть фильм будет больше.
All of those who wanted to watch the video have already watched it. If we ban it, more people would want to see it.
Many netizens appeared to share this concern. Underneath an article on the Kloop.kg news website, Aibek Baratashvili commented [ru]:
Чем больше запрещают, тем сильнее желание посмотреть! Дайте линк!
The more they ban something, the stronger the desire to watch it! Give me a link [to the video]!
Journalist Zarema Sultanbekov was [ru] even more forceful:
Что за бред, такой дешевый тупой фильм. Не думаю, что он здравомыслящего человека может спровоцировать… На Ютюбе вообще 15 минутный ролик, а не весь фильм… Эхх, Кыргызстан
What kind of nonsense is that? [This is] such a cheap and stupid film. I don't think that it could provoke areasonable person… There is only a 15 minute video on YouTube, not even the whole movie. Ugh, Kyrgyzstan.
But another Kloop commenter, Tim Ele, weighed in [ru] on the side of security:
И правильно сделали… А то у нас тоже беспорядки начнутся..
They've done a right thing… Otherwise riots will start here as well.
A chief concern among netizens was that people who were not aware of the ban could be detained by the State Committee for National Security (SCNS, successor to the Soviet-era KGB security agency) for sharing the film, regardless of their motivations for doing so. Kloop.kg Editor Eldiyar Arkybayev thus called for [ru] an information campaign about the ban:
Извините за выражение, но это пиздец. Ребята, прошу расшерить, потому что теперь людей могут осудить за ссылки на фильм. Нужно предупредить пока не начались задержания, аресты. Ментами дали повод для перевыполнения плана по задержанию. Поделитесь!
Excuse my language but this is bullshit. Guys, I ask you to reshare [this information], because now people might be penalized for sharing links to the movie. People should get notified before the arrests and detentions have started. The cops have been given grounds to execute arrests. Share!
“Freedom has died”
Well-known Kyrgyzstani blogger Ilya Karimdganov, labelled [ru] the day the court decision was announced a “historic day”:
Сегодня исторический день в Кыргызстане – свобода умерла…
Today is a historic day in Kyrgyzstan – freedom has died…
But not everyone shares Karimdjanov's vision of freedom. Journalist Aidai Irgebaeva responded [ru]:
о чем ты? при всей моей не религиозности, видео – говнянное. пропускать такое – нельзя. какая нах свобода?.. нельзя издеваться над святым…
What are you talking about? Although I am not religious, I find the video crappy. It should not be allowed. What kind of freedom are you talking about?.. Making fun of the sacred is inappropriate…
Debates about the censorship of videos and websites has been a key feature of Kyrgyzstan's young parliamentary-style democracy ever since inter-ethnic conflict occurred in the country's south in June 2010. For many, the authorities now have a responsibility to screen any material that might fuel antagonism between different ethnic and religious groups.
Nevertheless, online, a growing lobby of young Internet freedom advocates continue to raise their voices and oppose internet restrictions instigated by the state. So far they have not been heard by the country's main political institutions.