Anti-Porn Campaign Worries Kazak Opposition

Government crackdown on broadcasting pornography is seen as part of campaign to undermine opposition media.

Anti-Porn Campaign Worries Kazak Opposition

Government crackdown on broadcasting pornography is seen as part of campaign to undermine opposition media.

Courts in Kazakstan have ordered the closure of a private television station for broadcasting pornography, in what is seen as a thinly veiled attack on media outlets close to the opposition.


The alleged crime of Pavlodar-based Irbis TV was to broadcast in February the film Intimacy, directed by Patrice Chereau, winner of three prizes at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival.


Though undoubtedly erotic, few film critics see it as pornography. What leads many observers to see a political motive behind the court decision is the fact that when pro-government TV stations, such as Almaty television company Channel 31 and the Russian TNT channel, screened the film, there was no response.


Irbis, on the other hand, is out of favour with the government because of its support for Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, former governor of the Pavlodar region. He is currently under house arrest since returning from a recent visit to France to meet the dissident former premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin.


The closure of his station followed an orchestrated outcry. Valery Nabitovsky, governor of Pavlodar, denounced the film as "pornography" and demanded an investigation by the deputy culture minister, Oleg Ryabchenko.


Vyacheslav Lebedev, a technological college head in the city, said he had been outraged by the movie and claimed it would "inspire people to commit crimes and violence".


Although Ryabchenko declined to condemn the film, insisting that "there's no way it's pornography", the court ruling to close the station followed immediately. A criminal case was also brought against Irbis for violating article 124 of the criminal code by promoting obscene material.


A member of the committee for national security, who wished to remain anonymous, said political calculations - not moral outrage - inspired the attack on Irbis.


"Pressure has been applied on Irbis several times because the authorities see it as pro-opposition," he said. "They clearly have a selective approach when it comes to accusations of broadcasting pornography."


Film critic Oleg Boretsky said the government was blatantly using the article in the criminal code against pornography to target its political opponents.


The closure of the station has intimidated most of the other private TV channels, especially those whose owners are also out of favour with the government, into toning down their broadcasts.


Apart from accusations of broadcasting pornography, the government has other weapons at its disposal when it wants to clamp down on the opposition media, such as the stipulation that 50 per cent of all broadcasts must be in the Kazak language.


Another channel that has aroused government ire is TAN, owned by the former trade and energy minister, Mukhtar Ablyazov, a member of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakstan. He is also currently under arrest.


Attempts to catch TAN in the act of broadcasting pornography have already influenced broadcasting on the channel, which used to show late-night erotic films at the weekend.


The authorities have kept their definition of pornography deliberately vague. At a March press conference, experts from the justice ministry said the criteria were an absence of plot, the depiction of sexual acts, close-ups of genitals in an aroused state and the showing of orgasms.


But when IWPR asked the head of the expert team, Saken Abdulaev, to provide precise details on the new methodology, he refused. Abdulaev said he had been forbidden to communicate with journalists on the subject.


"The new methodology is a closed subject," said Svetlana Sergeeva, another member of the team. "We don't even have to give information about it to the judicial bodies. Our obligation is merely to make conclusions for the courts".


This disturbing level of secrecy and vagueness leads many journalists and rights activists to fear that the campaign against pornography will be extended to target a range of opposition media outlets.


"The authorities can define any film shown by a television company they are not happy with as 'porn'," said Nikita Vasiliev, of the GALA TV production company.


Yuliana Zhikhor is an independent journalist in Kazakstan


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