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Hollow Victory for Internet Freedom in Kazakhstan

In a rare but possibly empty victory for Internet freedom in Kazakhstan, access to the LiveJournal blogging platform has suddenly opened up within the country after two years of being stubbornly unavailable. Could Astana be trying to improve its media freedom record before it hosts a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in less than a month?

The authorities had denied blocking LJ, but observers were skeptical. As a motive for the government to deny access, they pointed to the LJ blog of Rakhat Aliyev, the disgraced former son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbayev who fell out with the president in 2007, was divorced by his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva, and was later sentenced to 40 years in prison in absentia on charges he denied.

Now, all of a sudden LiveJournal is accessible again in Kazakhstan – but Aliyev’s journal can’t be seen here, or anywhere else for that matter. In a twist that’s most convenient for Astana, Aliyev’s blog was suspended by LiveJournal itself on November 9.

Visitors to his page now see a sign saying “Suspended Journal” and an incongruous picture of a goat wearing an eye patch and a skull and crossbones hat. “This journal has been suspended,” a message says. “Its contents are no longer publicly visible. LiveJournal cannot discuss the reasons for a journal suspension with anyone except the journal owner.”

This prompted the errant former son-in-law to accuse the LJ management of blocking his site at the request of “messengers from Nazarbayev with live cash” in a posting on his personal website. Readers in Kazakhstan won’t be reading this, though, since – surprise, surprise – Aliyev’s website’s unavailable within the country. 

Aliyev quotes a letter he says he received from LJ, signed by “Eric, LiveJournal Abuse Prevention Team”: “It has come to our attention that numerous entries in your journal invade the privacy and libel another person. Due to the large number of entries identified, and because you have previously had an entry suspended for similar activities, your account has been permanently suspended.”

The LJ administration denies being directly involved in the decision to freeze Aliyev’s journal: Svetlana Ivannikova, the head of LiveJournal Russia, explained that it was suspended according to normal company policy, for breaching the rules of use. 

Never one to take a hit lying down, Aliyev compared Kazakhstan’s attempts to restrict access to information online to trying to plug the holes in the Titanic and pledged to open a page on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Astana’s new commitment to freedom of information doesn’t seem to be all-embracing: Many critical websites that are a thorn in the administration’s side – including respublika-kaz.infokub.info, and kplus-tv.net – remain unavailable in Kazakhstan, which last year passed controversial Internet legislation that allows the blocking of sites deemed to be in breach of Kazakh law. 

The OSCE, which Astana chairs this year, is officially committed to fighting for freedom of expression, and as world leaders gather in Kazakhstan for a summit in December, free speech advocates are hoping the notables might feel like raising Kazakhstan’s press freedom record during the discussions.

Hollow Victory for Internet Freedom in Kazakhstan

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