While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government limited freedom of expression and controlled the media through a variety of means, including laws, harassment, licensing regulations, internet restrictions, and criminal and administrative charges. Judicial actions against journalists and media outlets, including civil and criminal libel suits filed by government officials, led to the suspension of several media outlets and encouraged self-censorship.
Freedom of Speech: The government limited individuals’ ability to criticize the country’s leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit local media outlets’ criticism. The law prohibits insulting the president, the president’s family, and other senior officials.
On June 12, the Medeu District Court in Almaty found opposition politician Bulat Abilov guilty of undermining Vice Minister of Oil and Gas Berik Tolumbetov’s dignity and honor. The court ordered Abilov to pay Tolumbetov 500,000 tenge ($3,500) as compensation for moral damages. The case was based on a December 2012 message placed on the blog of the chairman of the State Agency, which stated that Tolumbetov had not paid his business partner, Andrey Cherednikov, the appropriate dividends.
Press Freedoms: According to official statistics, the government owned 16 percent of the country’s media outlets. Many privately owned newspapers and television stations received government subsidies. Companies allegedly controlled by members of the president’s family or loyal associates owned the majority of those broadcast media outlets that the government did not control outright. According to media observers, the government wholly or partly owned most of the seven nationwide television broadcasters. Regional governments owned several frequencies, and the Ministry of Communications and Information distributed those frequencies to independent broadcasters via a tender system.
All media were required to register with the Ministry of Culture and Information, although websites were exempt from this requirement.
The law limits the simultaneous broadcast of foreign-produced programming to 20 percent of a station’s weekly airtime. This provision burdened smaller, less developed regional television stations that lacked resources to develop programs, although the government did not sanction any media outlet under this provision.
After her website guljan.org was suspended in 2012, Gulzhan Yergaliyeva opened a new site, nuradam.kz. On July 2, Yergaliyeva told the press that a technical examination revealed that this site had also been blocked, but the Ministry of Transport and Communications denied involvement in the blocking. Yergaliyeva also complained that several printing houses refused to print the site’s corresponding magazine, Adam’s Readers, because of political pressure. On August 2, Yergaliyeva reported that her site guljan.org had been blocked again on July 27 without any warning.
Violence and Harassment: During the first six months of the year, press advocacy NGO Adil Soz recorded nine attacks on editorial offices and journalists, compared with 15 in 2012. According to the NGO, police prevented reporters from carrying out their professional duties in 18 instances between January and June, compared with 34 the previous year, and as of June authorities denied or significantly restricted journalists’ access to public information 180 times, compared with 190 times in all of 2012. Journalists working in opposition media and those covering stories related to corruption reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors.
On June 19, local government officials attacked Dauren Mustafin, a correspondent of the national newspaper El Birligi (Unity of the Country), in Shymkent. Mustafin intended to interview a deputy of the Ordabasinsk District Maslikhat (city council) about the deputy’s conflict with local citizens. According to Mustafin, the deputy and his colleagues stole Mustafin’s thumb drive and forced him into a car, where they threatened him and inflicted light bodily injuries.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law enables the government to restrict media content through amendments that prohibit undermining state security or advocating class, social, race, national, or religious superiority or cruelty and violence. Owners, editors, distributors, and journalists may be held civilly and criminally responsible for content unless it came from an official source. The government used this provision to limit media freedom.
In January the license of the independent newspaper Molodezhnaya Gazeta (Youth Newspaper) from the city of Zhezkazgan was revoked at the “request of the owner.” The editor and owner of the newspaper maintained that he neither requested nor agreed to close the paper. Many NGO activists believe that closure of the newspaper was connected to the paper’s regular reports on economic and ecological problems in the region, as well as on the activities of labor unions in central Kazakhstan and labor conflicts at the mining company Kazakhmys.
Libel Laws/National Security: The law on state secrets criminalizes the release of information regarding the health, finances, or private life of the president, as well as economic information, such as data about mineral reserves or government debts to foreign creditors. To avoid possible legal problems, media outlets often practiced self-censorship regarding the president or his family.
Private parties could initiate criminal libel suits without independent action by the government, and an individual filing such a suit is also able to file a civil suit based upon the same allegations. Officials used the law’s libel and defamation provisions to restrict media outlets from publishing unflattering information. Both the criminal and civil codes contain articles establishing broad liability for libel, with no statute of limitation or maximum amount of compensation. The requirement that owners, editors, distributors, publishing houses, and journalists prove the veracity of published information, regardless of its source, encouraged self-censorship at each level.
NGOs reported that libel cases against journalists and media outlets remained a problem. During the first six months of the year, Adil Soz cited eight criminal cases against media outlets and journalists, including four cases where the defendants were charged with inciting interethnic and religious hatred or discord. There were also 36 instances of civil charges against media outlets and journalists during the first six months of the year, compared with 86 during the first 10 months of 2012.
The Law on National Security prohibited “Influencing public and individual consciousness to the detriment of national security through the deliberate distortion of information.” According to experts, the term “unreliable information” is overly broad. The law also requires owners of communication networks and service providers to obey the orders of authorities in case of terrorist attacks or the government’s order to enact the suppression of mass riots.
The law prohibits publication of any statement that promotes or glorifies “extremism” or “incites social discord,” terms that international legal experts said the government had not clearly defined. The government subjected media outlets that criticized the president to intimidation, such as law enforcement actions or civil suits. Although these actions continued to have a chilling effect on media outlets, criticism of government policies continued. Incidents of local government pressure on the media continued.
On March 14, police detained Alexander Kharlamov, a journalist and blogger who also provided legal consultations on civil matters to local residents and wrote about corruption in local administrative and law enforcement bodies. On September 3, authorities ordered his transfer from prison to house arrest. During those six months, he spent several weeks involuntarily in a psychiatric clinic. The investigation claimed that the articles he published included views the majority of religious people opposed and could lead to negative public attitudes that could create discord about religion. At year’s end, Kharlamov continued to face charges of “inciting religious hatred” in his blog posts.
Observers reported that the government blocked or slowed access to opposition websites, and planted progovernment propaganda in internet chat rooms. The state regulated the country’s three internet service providers, including the state-owned Kaztelecom. Nevertheless, websites expressed a wide variety of views, including viewpoints critical of the government. The UN Broadband Communications Commission reported that 45 percent of the population had internet access.
The Ministry of Culture and Information controlled the registration of “.kz” internet domains. Authorities may suspend or revoke registration for locating servers outside of the country. Observers criticized the registration process as unduly restrictive and vulnerable to abuse.
Adil Soz reported eight cases of the government blocking or restricting access to websites during the first half of the year and the government’s intermittent blocking of the website LiveJournal continued, although the site remained accessible outside the country. Bloggers reported anecdotally that their sites were periodically blocked, including the independent news sites guljan.org, krasnoetv.kz, podkazt.kz, socialismkz.info, and janaozen.net, as well as the website of the banned newspaper Golos Respubliki. Websites such as respublika-kaz.info and kplustv.net were permanently blocked.
Courts frequently suspended the activities of opposition websites while considering claims against them.
The government implemented new regulations on internet access that mandated surveillance cameras in all internet cafes, required visitors to present identification to use the internet, demanded that internet cafes keep a log of visited websites, and authorized law enforcement officials to access the names and internet histories of users.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom, although academics, like other citizens, were prohibited from infringing on the dignity and honor of the president and his family. Many academics practiced self-censorship.