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Saturday, August 24th, 2019

Kazakh Protesters Detained As Websites Go Dark

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NUR-SULTAN — Police in Kazakhstan have detained several anti-government protesters who staged demonstrations during ceremonies to mark the 74th anniversary of the Allied victory against Nazi Germany in World War II.

RFE/RL correspondents witnessed the detention of at least one protester in Nur-Sultan, the capital, and several in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty.

Meanwhile, many social-media apps and news websites were inaccessible in Kazakhstan for most of the day on May 9 — including the website of RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service.

The developments came a day after the Prosecutor-General’s Office called on citizens not to organize or participate in unsanctioned rallies on Victory Day — warning of ‘harsh” punishment for such activities.

Earlier, fugitive former banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, a vocal critic of the Kazakh government who lives in France, called on Kazakhs via the Internet to hold protest demonstrations during the Victory Day celebrations.

The detentions of protesters on May 9 came while RFE/RL’s website could only be accessed in Kazakhstan via VPN or proxy services.

The websites of vlast.kz, holanews.kz, informburo.kz, exclusive.kz, time.kz, village.kz, and lada.kz news resources, as well as websites of the Uralskaya Nedelya and Aqzhaiyq newspapers were also inaccessible.

The website of the Kazakhstan’s Bureau for Human Rights was also inaccessible. Access to the Facebook, YouTube, and Telegram social networks was also restricted.

During the night, access to all the sites was restored, RFE/RL reported.

Kazakh officials have not given an official explanation, and representatives of the Information Ministry, National Security Committee, and Kazakhtelecom were not available for comment.

In recent years, the Kazakh government has blocked social-media websites in a bid to forestall public gatherings and rallies organized by opposition figures or rights groups.

In February 2017, Amnesty International warned that Kazakh authorities were stepping up efforts to keep tabs on online dissent.

Last year, for several months, such popular websites as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter and messaging apps like Telegram either worked slowly or not at all in Kazakhstan during the evening hours.

Several protests have been held across the country recently, an indication of growing discontent with the political system that has been dominated by 78-year-old former President Nursultan Nazarbaev since before the 1991 Soviet collapse. Nazarbaev retains the title of Leader of the Nation, despite stepping down as president in March.

Many of the protests have been focused on the upcoming June 9 snap presidential election, which was scheduled following Nazarbaev’s surprise resignation.

Opponents, critics, and rights groups say Nazarbaev, who tolerated little dissent, denied many basic rights and prolonged his power in the energy-rich country of 18.7 million by undermining democratic processes.

No vote held in the Central Asian country since 1991 has been deemed free and democratic by international observers.

Nazarbaev’s resignation caught many observers off guard. However, the fact that he continues to lead the ruling party and will also keep his lifetime post as chairman of the influential Security Council, has led many experts to conclude that the resignation was a legal sleight of hand aimed at extending his rule over the country.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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