Stockholm, April 14, 2023—Kazakh authorities should thoroughly investigate a recent bomb threat against Kazakh news outlet Moy Gorod and take steps to ensure the outlet’s safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On April 7, an individual emailed Moy Gorod’s editorial office in the northwestern city of Oral saying they had planted a bomb in their building, according to a Moy Gorod report and Anel Kainedenova, Moy Gorod‘s editor-in-chief who spoke to CPJ by messaging app.
The emailer described themselves as a “Russian shahid”—an Arabic or Islamic word for a martyr—and said they had set 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of TNT to a timer that would shortly detonate.
Police searched the office, but did not find any explosives, Kainedenova said. She said Moy Gorod has not previously received threats, but has recently been subject to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which the outlet believes could be related to its coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine and Russian separatist sentiment in western Kazakhstan.
“Bomb threats against media outlets must be taken fully seriously and demand a swift response,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director in New York. “Kazakh authorities should conduct a thorough investigation into recent threats and cyberattacks against Moy Gorod and take measures to ensure the safety of its staff.”
Moy Gorod (My City) is an independent newspaper and website covering current affairs in Kazakhstan’s western provinces, with over 400,000 followers across its social media accounts, its website said.
Kainedenova said Moy Gorod’s staff did not initially see the threat because it landed in the outlet’s junk mail, but that Oral police called her at home the evening of April 7 and asked her to open the editorial office after several local schools and courts received the same threat. Police with bomb-sniffing dogs searched the office, but did not find anything suspicious, she said.
In the message, the emailer identified themselves as Andrei Petrov and wrote it was a “great day” that “Kazakhstan will remember forever,” adding they will “put an end to this governance forever. … Soon (the explosives) will all detonate and the ammonal charge will do away with your pitiful lives tick tock.”
Kainedenova said she is unsure why the emailer chose Moy Gorod or how seriously to take the threat. She said separatist sentiment has been more frequently expressed in West Kazakhstan Region, where Oral is located, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The region borders five Russian oblasts—an administrative division similar to a province—and ethnic Russians comprise about 20% of its population.
Moy Gorod, which publishes in Russian, has suffered repeated distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks since September 2022, Kainedenova said. The outlet believes this could be related to its reporting on the Ukraine war—which it has called a “war” rather than the Russian-designated term of “special military operation”—and on local separatist sentiment.
Russian authorities have repeatedly sought to censor Russian-language Kazakh reporting on the Ukraine war, and Kainedenova added that the start of the DDoS attacks coincided with a wave of such attacks on Kazakh media outlets and a mass influx into Kazakhstan of Russians seeking to avoid military drafts. Karla Jamankulova, head of local free-speech organization Adil Soz, shared data with CPJ that showed at least 11 Kazakh outlets were targeted by DDoS and hacking attacks since the start of 2022, but Jamankulova said there was not sufficient information to comment on the source of these attacks.
In 2021, Kazakh outlet Aq Zhayiq, which also covers west Kazakhstan and reported critically on Russia, received threats from users evincing strong Russian nationalist sentiment.
CPJ emailed Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs for comment, but did not receive a reply.
[Editor’s note: The text in the fourth paragraph has been updated to correct Kainedenova’s description of the bomb threat.]