The Lower House of the Kazakh parliament is currently discussing amendments that would consider a variety of online resources as mass media, thus subjecting the sites to being blocked if deemed in violation of Kazakh law. If the amendments are adopted, the General Prosecutor will have the right to "cut off" personal blogs, forums, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) portals - which enable access to the Internet from a mobile phone - and other online resources for three days without court interference. After three days, court action may ensue.
To shed light on the situation and what is at stake, IJNet Russian editor Alexander Yakhontov spoke last week to Irina Mednikova and Evgenia Plakhina, civil activists of the advocacy group For Independent Internet, in Kazakhstan.
IJNet: How many Internet users are there in Kazakhstan?
IM: We have 1,190,000 Internet users in our country [total population: 15,399,437].
IJNet: Who will be hurt by the amendments, if the law is adopted?
IM: The amendments will cause serious trouble for the most active Internet users. Foremost, youth - who visit social networks, blogs, forums, chats, music sites and video portals - will be affected. Internet for them is a place for all sorts of creative activity. Others who will be hurt include managers, lawyers, journalists, trainers, coordinators and public service offices, who use a wide range of information and communication channels.
IJNet: What is being done in opposition to the amendments?
EP: We organized a group of about a hundred users, who sent messages to the personal blog of Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov, asking him to use his influence to fight against the amendments. But all of our messages were pre-moderated and withdrawn without any response. Unsatisfied, we decided to attract public attention to the amendments through a "political flash mob." We invited mass media, youth associations, NGOs and whistle-blowers to come to the chief Internet provider's office to demand the sites not be blocked, and ask how users can be protected.
IJNet: Was the event successful?
EP: Of 60 people who initially supported the idea, only 10 came at midday to the main office of AlmatyTelecom. The protestors, dragging PC mice by the wire like pets, formed a line at the entrance, and began to enter one by one. At first the guard looked at them smiling. But soon the office staff expressed that they were too busy to speak. One flash mobber, Galym Ageleulov, said after the third visitor's questions, managers rushed to their chief and the fifth visitor was refused entry.
After, the flash mobbers decided to "bury" their "PC mice pets." With kerchiefs, they tied the mice to the trashcan at the entrance of AlmatyTelecom. Kerchiefs are a Kazakh symbol of the wish for the Internet to remain free.
IJNet: Did the authorities respond?
IM: Perhaps by coincidence, an hour and a half after the flash mob, the Kazakh Minister of Culture and Information Muhtar Kul-Muhamed responded to our questions on a government blog.
He explained that the amendments concern only those Internet resources that "propagate unconstitutional ideas," such as racism, nationalism, violence against legal authorities, religious and sexual harassment, drug use and the like. The amendments, according to Kul-Muhamed, seek to limit the spread of secret information and protect democratic virtues of the state and its law-abiding citizens.
IJNet: Are you happy with this explanation?
EP: This is an ordinary philistine's declamation, a legal tool against free-minded people who are seeking social change. In other words we may soon face censorship.
As announced, the amendments are to be adopted within two months, which means we have little time left. Many people, however, support our efforts, and even composed a song and made a video about the proposed legislation. We would be glad to get support from all who realize the danger of bans on the Internet in Kazakhstan.
To watch the video click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkRPn5hWDoo.
To download the song, go to http://rapidshare.com/files/208657958/V_podderzhku_kampanii_za_svobodniy_internet.WMA.