Kazakhstan has warned it will block the popular Telegram messaging app unless the company agrees to delete content from a banned political party.
Information and Communications Minister Dauren Abayev wrote in a blog post on April 3 that his office has submitted its request to the company directly, asking for the removal of materials produced by the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, or DVK.
Abayev said that he is acting in response to dozens of appeals from members of the public, who said they have been subscribed to DVK’s Telegram channel without requesting it. The appeals produced by the minister on his blog are all written in uniform style and are similarly worded. Social media, meanwhile, has seen no similar public outcry.
The man behind DVK, foreign-based government critic Mukhtar Ablyazov, is an object of near-pathological obsession for Astana. He has been targeted with multiple and highly costly deportation campaigns, accused of fomenting public unrest and even plotting terroristic actions. His movement, which appears to enjoy exiguous levels of actual support, was last month designated extremist by court order. When Ablyazov last month produced a video appeal urging people to show support for his movement by holding blue balloons during festivities to mark the recent spring equinox holiday, police went around Astana harassing people on the off-chance they were obeying those instructions.
Informburo.kz has reported, citing the Information Ministry, that Kazakhstan’s authorities are also demanding that companies like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and VKontakte also delete DVK content. VKontakte, which is based in Russia, appears to have complied to a large extent. Instagram and Telegram have agreed to the request only partially.
The Information Ministry claimed on March 27 that all those sites could eventually be blocked unless they submit to the demands.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.