Letters   |   Kazakhstan

Restrictive draft press law in hands of Kazakh president

July 7, 2009 

His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev 
President of Kazakhstan 
Ak-Orda Presidential Residence 
Astana 

Via facsimile: +7 7172 74 56 31

Dear President Nazarbayev,

As an independent, nonpartisan organization defending press freedom worldwide, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on you to veto a severely restrictive draft Internet law, which will further curb press freedom conditions in Kazakhstan and is inconsistent with your country's democratic aspirations.

The draft law, which the government introduced in January, aims to regulate communications and information-sharing in the Kazakh segment of the Internet, and its provisions establish Internet users' rights and obligations. But local critics said it is a draconian measure aimed to stifle dissent on the Web. The bill proposes to equate all Internet sources available to Kazakhs--including blogs, forums, chat-rooms, personal pages, social networks, and others--with traditional media outlets, and make them liable to the same laws and regulations. The new law would extend punitive legislation to cover Web sites as well as traditional news outlets. The vaguely worded bill enables state agencies to shut down or block both domestic and foreign Web sources accessible in Kazakhstan, if those are found in breach of Kazakh laws. 

Of particular concern are amendments to Kazakh laws on media, communications, and information. The government suggested expanding the legal basis for closing down media outlets for up to three months if they are found in violation of pre-election campaigns requirements; if they are found to have prevented or assisted the election of certain candidates and political parties; or if they are found to have advocated for a particular election outcome. Media outlets could also be closed if a court finds that they have urged citizen participation in public protests, or if they violate Kazakh legislation on organizing and conducting public gatherings and civil demonstrations.

Amendments to the communications law demand that Internet providers share personal information of their users with authorities upon official request. Internet providers are also required to provide access to their network and offer "necessary assistance" to law enforcement agencies who conduct investigations of their users.

The draft law also requires state-owned communications agencies, Internet providers, and owners of Internet resources to suspend or terminate access to online media outlets if a court order has been issues against them for violations of Kazakh laws.

The parliament's lower chamber passed the bill in a single reading on April 29, despite warnings from media and human rights groups that the bill was too restrictive. The parliament's upper chamber passed it on June 25. It now awaits your signature or veto. According to news reports, Kuanyshbek Eskeyev, the head of Kazakhstan's state communications agency, which developed the bill, said in the parliament that proposed amendments are aimed to protect Kazakh citizens' constitutional rights.

However, CPJ research and interviews with local media experts show that the proposed legislation would facilitate state agencies to further crack down on the opposition and critical voices, which have found refuge on the Web. Local press freedom advocates, who submitted proposed suggestions to the bill for parliament's consideration, told CPJ that their ideas were all but ignored. "Media experts and journalists pointed at the problem issues in the bill, but nobody [in the lower chamber] cared about that. The parliament made only a few minor changes, and that's it," Yevgeny Zhovtis, head of the Almaty-based Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, told CPJ.

According to CPJ research, parliament also ignored recommendations by media experts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), whose analysis said the proposed legislation violated Kazakh and international laws, as well as the OSCE standards.

We are gravely concerned by this bill and urge you to veto it. Although your government has claimed that the bill has been crafted to contain the spread of illicit content--such as pornography, appeals to violence and extremism, and threats to national security--in practice it will limit freedom of expression, violate the privacy of Kazakh citizens and criminalize critical Internet content. Kazakh media are already hammered with crippling fines, bureaucratic harassment, and politically motivated prosecutions, which should be eliminated, not enhanced.

We urge you to demonstrate to the European community your rejection of this restrictive bill in this important moment for Kazakhstan as it is about to assume leadership of the pan-European human rights monitoring body, the OSCE.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response. 

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

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