The demonstrations against the new laws on the sale and renting of land have been going on for exactly a month but it was only during the past weekend that the authorities began cracking down on media coverage of the protests.
The Facebook, Vkontakte, Twitter and Instagram social networks and the Viber and WhatsApp messaging services ceased to function in Kazakhstan on the night of 20 May.
The arrests of journalists throughout the country began the next morning. Some were arrested as they left their homes. Most were released, although some were given heavy fines for “disturbing public order.” Lukpan Akhmedyarov, a journalist in the northwestern city of Oral, was sentenced to 15 days in prison.
“The repressive machinery has yet again been set in motion in Kazakhstan,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“There were arrests in all of the country’s regions, which means they were coordinated, despite the interior ministry’s denial. This was a blatant act of intimidation by a government that feared the popular discontent would keep growing and decided it was time to silence the protests.”
President Nursultan Nazerbayev announced on 5 May that he intends to create an information ministry that is independent of the culture ministry. The initiative is designed above all to reinforce the government’s already tight grip on media outlets and social networks.
Guzyal Baydalinova, the editor of the opposition online newspaper Nakanune, has meanwhile just been sentenced to 18 months in prison on a charge of publishing false information. Two freelance journalists who wrote the offending articles testified against her. Baydalinova, who has been held for the past five months, said she was duped.
Kazakhstan is ranked 160th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.