Thursday, May 22, 2008

RFE/RL Accuses Kazakhstan Of Blocking Website

In a "very disturbing" case that smacks of "deliberate interference" by the Kazakh government, Internet users in Kazakhstan have been prevented for more than five weeks from accessing the Kazakh-language website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin has said in a statement. Access to the Kazakh site was interrupted on April 11, the statement said, and has continued despite RFE/RL's repeated requests to the Kazakh government and KazTelecom, the state-run telecom operator, to restore service. Because KazTelecom is the main Internet service provider for Central Asia, access to RFE/RL websites in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan has also been blocked. "This is very disturbing," Gedmin said. "We initially thought we had a technical problem on our hands, but the Kazakh government's refusal to respond to us, after many requests, suggests that it's a case of deliberate interference. If they were interested in restoring our service, they would have and could have done so by now." RFE/RL has provided alternate access to its websites through proxy sites in all four of the affected Central Asian countries, but the original sites remain blocked. Kazakhstan's poor record on media freedom is already under heightened scrutiny. In 2010, the country is due to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Press freedom advocates consider any Kazakh OSCE chairmanship controversial. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based media watchdog, has said the Kazakh government has "total control of influential broadcast media" and a "record of unpunished attacks on the press." The Kazakh case comes on the heels of an unprecedented cyberattack last month on several RFE/RL websites. On April 26, the attack initially targeted the website of the Belarus Service but quickly affected seven other RFE/RL websites, including services to Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Iran (Radio Farda), and Russia, including Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, operating from Prague and Almaty, broadcasts Kazakh-language programming daily via satellite, shortwave, and state-owned AM radio. Until April 11, programming was also available via the Internet at RFE/RL is an independent news and broadcast organization funded by the U.S. Congress. Its programs on the radio, Internet, and television reach audiences in 28 languages in 21 countries.

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