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Kazakhstan Tightens Squeeze on Media

Astana reinforces its status as a no-go area for independent media, while ostensibly more open Kyrgyzstan cracks down on opposition TV station.

4 January 2018

A few days before the New Year, Kazakhstan’s long-serving president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, approved a package of amendments to the national media law that critics say will have negative effects on the country’s media landscape.

 

When word of the proposed changes to the media law were first announced, hopes were raised that the amendments would buck the trend toward ever-greater control of the press, according to a Reporters Without Borders (RSF) statement.

 

While some positive provisions on image ownership and regulatory violations were adopted on the recommendation of civil society organizations and journalists, RSF argues the amendments will make the already “draconian” conditions for media in Kazakhstan “even worse.” 

 

Watchdogs say Kazakhstan's new laws will make the country's media landscape even more restrictive. Image : President Nursultan Nazarbayev / Kremlin.ru

 

Among the changes, the law now requires websites to identify users posting comments after articles, and to retain that information for three months, according to AFP.

 

The law also obliges journalists to receive permission from persons mentioned in articles before publishing information that “could be classified as family, personal, medical, banking, commercial and other legally protected secrets.”

 

The developments in Kazakhstan come just over a week after a Kyrgyzstani court handed down a huge fine for libel against independent journalists and a rights activist, on the same day as the country’s anti-corruption agency raided a television station known to be owned by President Sooronbai Jeebenkov’s main rival in the recent presidential elections, Omurbek Babanov, according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

Prior to the elections in October, a supporter of Babanov was arrested for allegedly planning a coup, in what some saw as a politically motivated attempt to stifle competition.

 

The station was issued with an order to stop broadcasting immediately and close its premises soon after a freeze of the station’s assets was approved by a court in Bishkek.

 

EurasiaNet says the station, NTS, is “one of only a few remaining national TV broadcasters still pursuing reasonably critical coverage of the government.”

 

In the 2017 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, Kyrgyzstan ranked 89th out of 180 countries. Kazakhstan rose three places to 157th, which RSF pointed out was “due solely to the deterioration in many other countries.”

 

 

 

  • The obligation on Kazakhstani websites to identify commentators and retain that information mirrors a law on anonymous commenters passed in China last August, writes the Diplomat.

 

  • RSF says the vague wording of the Kazakhstani amendments raises fears that broad interpretations could be used to legitimize backlashes against journalists seen as critical.

 

  • Freedom House rated both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan’s media as “not free” in the most recent Freedom of the Press 2017 report. 

Compiled by Kate Syme-Lamont

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