Journalists in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan fear that if there is approval for another round of repressive media laws they could finish up close to the bottom of the international list for media freedom.
Legislation currently before the Kazakh Parliament proposes that all media resources supplied through the internet should be regarded as being part of the “mass media” and could be closed down on the instructions of the prosecutor general. Irina Petrushova, editor in chief of Respublika, a Kazakhstan business review, told the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom that even a journalist’s personal blog would be considered part of the “mass media”. All websites were to be included under the scope of new powers to close down news outlets. Closure orders could be issued by the prosecutor general by executive decision and no grounds would need to be given. Ms Petrushova’s appeal for international support to oppose the legislation was backed by Muratbek Ketebayev, president of the Civil Activity Fund, a Kazakh organisation which was formed to encourage civil society activity and provide a bridgehead for NGOs. On a visit to London, Ketebayev said he feared the Kazakhstan government was proposing what could become an information iron curtain. Journalists were already finding that access was blocked to sections of news and information websites such as www.livejournal.com and these restrictions were reducing the flow of information into Kazakhstan from the rest of the world. “Free newspapers can be shut down at will and simultaneously we are finding that we are losing access to internet sites. If this information iron curtain is approved we will be cut off from the rest of the world. The people of Kazakhstan will end up in an information black hole, a no man’s land between Russia and China. “We hope to raise international awareness to the fact that the people of Kazakhstan are in limbo when it comes to gaining information”. Ketebayev believed the latest round of media law was being enacted in preparation for a possible hand over of power. There had been persistent rumours about the ill health of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the legislation seemed to be part of a process aimed at securing control of the government. Earlier measures against the media, approved in 2001 and 2006, had resulted in moves to revoke Respublika’s licence as part of a wider clampdown on the freedom of the five or six newspapers that were prepared to scrutinise the government and report challenges by the opposition. Journalists feared there would be a further attempt to amend the law to authorise prosecutions if information was published which could be deemed to insult the dignity or honour of the President and members of the government. Ms Petrushova, who holds a Russian passport, said she now works for Respublika from London because of legislation that banned foreign nationals from taking the role of editor-in-chief. *According to the media freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Frontiers Kazakhstan is ranked 125 out of 173 countries. END