However, they are required to channel at least part of their traffic through Kazakhtelecom’s infrastructure.16 Over 100 other ISPs operate in Kazakhstan, but must purchase their access via the above-mentioned seven, making it difficult for them to compete in the market. As such, the five largest companies account for some 90 percent of the internet access market.
Kazakhtelecom’s dominance over information flow routes creates the conditions for systemic content filtering and surveillance. As of mid-2010, there were six mobile-phone Alexa, “Top Sites in Kazakhstan,” http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/KZ, accessed August 25, 2010.
Karin Deutsch Karlekar, eds., “Kazakhstan,” Freedom of the Press 2009 (New York: Freedom House, 2008), http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfmpage=251&year=2009.
Adil Nurmakov, “Kazakhstan: Livejournal Unblocked After 2 Years of Filtering,” Global Voices Online, November 17, 2010, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/11/17/kazakhstan-livejournal-unblocked-after-2-years-of-filtering/.
Google, “Transparency Report: Traffic,” http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/traffic/, accessed September 23, 2010.
International Telecommunications Union, “ICT Statistics 2009–Mobile Cellular Subscriptions,” http://www.itu.int/ITUD/icteye/Reporting/ShowReportFrame.aspxReportName=/WTI/CellularSubscribersPublic&ReportFormat=HTML4.0&RP_ intYear=2009&RP_intLanguageID=1&RP_bitLiveData=False, accessed September 23, 2010.
Vasilyev, “Êàçíåò â ðàçðåçå.” Inna Soboleva, “Ðûíîê òåëåêîììóíèêàöèé: äèíàìèêà ðàçâèòèÿ” [Telecommunications Market: Dynamics of Development], Advertising, September 30, 2006, republished by Profit Online at http://www.profit.kz/articles/000126/.
KAZAKHSTAN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net providers in Kazakhstan, including three using the GSM standard and three using the CDMA standard. The three most active are GSM Kazakhstan, Beeline/K-Mobile, and Altel.17 Kazakhtelecom holds a stake of 49 percent in GSM Kazakhstan, and is also a parent company to one of the other GSM carriers, NEO.18 Beeline belongs to the Russian mobile operator Vimpelcom, which acquired the Kartel company and its K-Mobile system in 2005.Several bodies regulate the ICT sector. The.kz domain is managed by the Kazakh Center of Network Information and the Kazakh Association of IT Companies; both were created in 2004–05. The latter was established as a nongovernmental organization, but in practice, it reportedly has 80 percent government ownership, and has been known to make politicized decisions on the registration.kz domain names.20 Among government entities, ICT issues have been overseen mostly by the Informatics and Communications Agency and the Ministry of Culture, which were restructured in 2010 and merged into the Ministry of Communications and Information.
The government-affiliated Kazkontent organization is responsible for creating strategies and programs to help the Kazakh internet generate more of its own content. Since 2009, ISPs have also collaborated within the National Center for Internet Traffic Exchange to set up special channels for routing traffic during high-demand periods. As of mid-2010, eight ISPs were participating in the network, including four of the largest operators:
Kazakhtelecom, Nursat, Intelsoft, and Astel.
LIMITS ON CONTENT The Kazakh authorities have engaged in some online censorship, though it is selective, sporadic, and inconsistent. Nevertheless, there are indications that government censorship may expand in the coming years, including possibly via filtering at the backbone network level.21 In addition, in March 2010, Kuanyshbek Yesekeyev, who heads the Kazakh Information and Communication Agency, announced the establishment of the “Service to React to Computer Incidents.” He stated that it had begun compiling blacklists of Valentina Fomicheva, “Ìîáèëüíàÿ ñâÿçü â Êàçàõñòàíå” [Mobile Communications in Kazakhstan], Computer Club Magazine, March 26, 2007, republished by Profit Online at http://www.profit.kz/articles/000162/.
“KazakhTelecom to Sell Mobile Network Subsidiary,” Cellular News, June 29, 2009, http://www.cellularnews.com/story/38266.php.
OpenNet Initiative, “Country Profile: Kazakhstan.” OpenNet Initiave, “Country Profile: Kazakhstan.” KAZAKHSTAN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net “destructive” websites, raising concerns among free expression advocates that such a vague criterion would be applied to politically and socially-oriented websites.There are three ways in which access to certain online content is restricted in Kazakhstan: technical filtering by Kazakhtelecom, cancellation of.kz domain names, and more recently, self-censorship by content hosting companies for fear of prosecution.
According to testing conducted by the Open Net Initiative (ONI) on two principle ISPs, access is blocked—particularly by Kazakhtelecom—to “opposition groups’ websites, regional media sites that carry political content,…selected social networking sites, [and] a number of proxy sites.”23 Censorship is often inconsistent, however, and in some cases blocks are only implemented by Kazakhtelecom. Service providers that use their own channels to connect to the wider internet may provide access without blocking. During its two-year blockage, LiveJournal, for example, could be accessed freely in several cybercafes in Almaty that did not connect via Kazakhtelecom. Similarly, in some instances, websites that are blocked on the regular internet appear to be accessible via mobile devices.
Throughout 2010, the main website of Respublika, an opposition weekly paper known for its criticism of the government and coverage of sensitive topics such as human rights abuses and high-level corruption, was blocked for most Kazakh users, corresponding to increased official repression targeting its print edition. A reader survey conducted by the editors revealed that Kazakhtelecom customers were unable to access the site, but readers served by other ISPs were able to load it.24 Both the government and Kazakhtelecom executives have avoided commenting on censorship policies, preferring to remain silent or attribute content inaccessibility to technical problems.
One of most visible catalysts for censorship has been the political scandal surrounding Rakhat Aliyev, Nazarbayev’s former son-in-law, who had served as chair of the National Security Committee for Almaty, and as ambassador to Austria before definitively falling out of favor with the president and his family. He was then sought by the authorities on charges of kidnapping and financial crimes. Having fled abroad, he began airing inside information and allegations, in the traditional media and online, in an effort to discredit the president.
Any material related to Aliyev and his connections to the presidential family is filtered by Kazakhtelecom. In October 2007, four opposition-related websites (Kub.kz, Zonakz.net, Geo.kz, and Inkar.info) were blocked after they had posted transcripts of phone conversations among high-level politicians related to the Aliyev case. “Kazakhstan Tightens Control Over Internet—Official,” Inquirer.net, March 1, 2010, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/infotech/view/20100301-256094/Kazakhstan-tightens-control-overInternetofficial ; Nina Ognianova, “Disdaining Press Freedom, Kazakhstan Undermines OSCE,” Committee to Protect Journalists, September 14, 2010, http://cpj.org/reports/2010/09/disdaining-press-freedom-kazakhstan-undermines-osc.php.
OpenNet Initiative, “Country Profile: Kazakhstan.” Ognianova, “Disdaining Press Freedom, Kazakhstan Undermines OSCE.” Bruce Pannier, “Kazakhstan Blocks Critical Websites, as Opposition Cries ‘Censorship’,” Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, October 24, 2007, http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1079017.html.
KAZAKHSTAN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net While Zonakz.net and Inkar.info were soon unblocked, access to Kub.kz and Geo.kz was permanently restricted when the authorities withdrew their registration for a.kz domain name. In late October 2007, the Kazakh Agency for Information and Communication issued an order to shut down the websites, citing 2005 rules requiring all.kz sites to be hosted in Kazakhstan, while these two websites were based overseas.26 A similar justification was used to suspend Borat.kz in 2005 after a wave of resentment among Kazakh authorities against the American film Borat, which parodied the country.With several new pieces of internet-restricting legislation coming into force, since early 2009 there has also been an increase in self-censorship and content removal implemented by companies hosting online information.28 Despite criticism from the international community, in July 2009 Nazarbayev signed amendments to the existing information and communication law that identified all online resources—including websites, chat rooms, blogs, online stores, and electronic libraries—as mass media with equal civil, administrative, and criminal responsibility. The law also calls for the blocking of any online resources that carry elements of “information war against Kazakhstan,” whether or not the server and domain hosting the information is located in the country.29 Given the harsh legal environment for traditional media, the legislation opened the door for “thirdparty liability,” in which the owner or host of a website is held legally responsible for content posted by others, for instance in discussion forums or the comment section under a news article. Following passage of the amendment, most online content providers in Kazakhstan hired moderators to monitor and censor content that could expose the hosting entity to legal repercussions. It is impossible to create any account with the name Rakhat Aliyev, for example. Many observers warn that such self-censorship will grow worse due to the July 2010 adoption of a law granting Nazarbayev the status of “Leader of the Nation,” which essentially places any criticism of him and his family under the umbrella of threats to “national” security or reputation. However, the threat of third-party liability has not yet influenced foreign search engines such as Russia’s Yandex or the U.S.-based Google, which do not censor their search results.
The 2008 blocking of LiveJournal, at the time the most popular blogging platform in Kazakhstan, generated significant changes to the country’s blogosphere. Before it was blocked, LiveJournal hosted 32 percent of all active Russian-language blogs in Kazakhstan, A copy of the letter from the Kazakh Center of Network Information to Kub.kz informing it of its suspension is available at http://www.kub.info/downloads/kaznic.pdf, accessed August 30, 2010.
“Kazakhs Shut Ali G Star’s Website,” British Broadcasting Corporation, December 14, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4527516.stm.
Carl Schreck, “Kazakhstan Puts Pressure on Bloggers,” The National, August 25, 2009, http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/articleAID=/20090825/FOREIGN/708249847/1140.
The text of the law is available in Russian at http://comport.region.kz/forum/download/file.phpid=7262, accessed August 30, 2010.
KAZAKHSTAN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net or nearly 230,000 users,30 and there were no local platforms. Some bloggers migrated to other international platforms like Blogger.com or LiveInternet.ru, while others retained their blogs on LiveJournal but used a proxy server to access it. Still others switched to new local services supported by Kazakhtelecom. As of the end of 2010, it was too soon to tell if these shifts would be reversed with LiveJournal’s unblocking.
One of the local blogging sites, Yvision.kz, has emerged as the most popular Kazakhstan-based blog-hosting platform, with over 14,000 users blogging mostly in Russian.
Many of the platform’s creators are bloggers and programmers, but they have had to introduce a system to moderate and self-censor content, and anyone joining the site must accept a user agreement outlining the system. Yvisioners coined the term “yvizhenka,” referring to a series of “offline” meetings of bloggers that have been held periodically in almost every large city in Kazakhstan since 2009. Noticing the emerging market for bloghosting platforms, another large-scale blogging project called On.kz was launched in 2010.
According to the project’s managers, more than 15,000 blogs were registered during the first few months. Overall, however, the Kazakh blogosphere remains a relatively small community with room to grow.
In an effort to counter criticism of the blocking of LiveJournal and demonstrate a willingness to engage with citizens online, government officials started to keep their own blogs in recent years. Every government website has a blog, and according to the prime minister, every minister should establish a blog and write about the work being done by their ministry. The website blogs.egov.kz is called “the official blogging platform for highranking Kazakh officials,” and is home to the blog of Prime Minister Karim Masimov, among others.31 The initiative appears to have attracted little attention and had a limited impact on public opinion as the blogs generally resemble other government press portals in style and content.
The Kazakh blogosphere is dominated by the younger generation, with most users aged between 15 and 25.32 Although blogs typically focus on personal topics, entertainment, and fashion, blogging has become a popular tool for self-promotion. As same-sex relationships are not widely accepted in the country, people writing on the issue often prefer to keep their blogs in “friends-only” mode, fearing societal discrimination should their sexual orientation become publicly known. Nevertheless, in July 2010, the first gay and lesbian literary magazine was published and made available online, as many of the Human Rights Watch, “Human Rights in Kazakhstan: Seven Months Before the OSCE Chairmanship,” memorandum, May 20, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/node/83329.
Adil Nurmakov, “Kazakhstan: Prime Minister Launched Blog,” Global Voices, January 16, 2009, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/01/16/kazakhstan-prime-minister-launched-blog/.