Russia Demands Kazak Outlets Censor Ukraine Reports
“It could be described as an attempt against the sovereignty of Kazakstan’s media.”
Russia’s media regulatory body is demanding that a range of Kazak outlets censor content related to the war in Ukraine in a move that experts warn has no legal basis.
Since the beginning of last year, at least nine Kazakstan-based outlets received notices from the Russian Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (Roskomnadzor) demanding that they remove content relating to the war.
Charging that such content “contradicts official data of the ministry of defence of the Russian Federation,” Roskomnadzor threatened to block the outlets in Russia if they did not remove the items in question.
The first to be contacted was the Newtimes.kz website, which received a letter in April 2022 asserting that they had published unreliable information. According to editor-in-chief Dmitry Kim, the article concerned sanctions imposed on Russia. Newtimes.kz followed Roskomnadzor’s instructions because, according to Kim, they did not want to deny free access to information to Russian readers.
The next outlet Roskomnadzor contacted was Ratel.kz, in August 2022, over an article entitled “How long will Russian citizens support the war of Russia in Ukraine”. Ratel.kz editor-in-chief Marat Asipov said he would not remove the material and called on the Kazak foreign ministry to respond to what he called attempts to interfere with the interior affairs of Kazakstan.
Asipov emphasised, “Yes, we are aware that some traffic comes from Russia. But a Kazakstan-based reader is more important to us.”
Then, in November 2022, Roskomnadzor demanded that the Kazakstan-based Arbat.media should delete an article titled “Russian occupiers are defeated in Kharkiv region, yet do not want to admit it.”
The agency went even further, opening a lawsuit against Arbat.media on the basis that the article “is misleading about the purposes of the special military operation” and noting that “the special operation is not planning to occupy Ukrainian territories”.
A trial was held in the Vladimir region on February 17. Arbat.media editor-in chief Syrym Itkulov said that he was unaware of the outcome but in any case was not going to remove the article.
“Being a Kazakstan-based news outlet, the organisation does not violate the law of Kazakstan, and therefore there are no grounds for removing the material,” he said.
Itkulov said that the reason the outlet had been targeted was its popularity in Russia.
“Forty-five per cent of readers of our website are from Russia,” he said, adding, “These demands from Russia are surreal, and do not fit into legal or moral frameworks.”
In December 2022, Roskomnadzor demanded that the Vlast (Power) outlet remove several texts about the war in Ukraine, including on the number of deceased in Mariupol and about the shelling of the Ukrainian city of Vinnitsa.
Vlast refused and emphasised that its activities were not regulated by Russian laws.
“The editorial office is not going to remove the specified or any other news about the war in Ukraine and will continue to cover it regardless of the opinion of the Russian agency in charge of military censorship,” Vlast said in its statement.
In the same month, Roskomnadzor made similar demands to news website Informburo.kz, which also said it followed only Kazak law.
Informburo.kz director general Anastasia Bolovintseva noted that they had received five such demands from Roskomnadzor since 2020.
“Back then we contacted the ministry of information and public development of Kazakstan, and also the prosecutor’s office, but didn’t receive any clear answer as to what we should do and how we should act,” she said.
Informburo.kz decided to restrict access to the relevant material in Russia, but not in Kazakstan.
“Our audience from Russia is the second largest after the one from Kazakstan,” Bolovintseva said. “So, not to lose it, we restrict access to specific materials which are the matter of claims. This content is unavailable to our readers from Russia.”
She said that it was peculiar Roskomnadzor made such demands directly to media outlets rather than to the relevant state authorities.
“Even if such questions were resolved at the state level, I don’t think [the ministry of information and public development] would side with Roskomnadzor. Representatives of Roskomnadzor should not have influence on our independence,” Bolovintseva said.
ATTACK ON SOVEREIGNTY
Gulmira Birzhanova, a lawyer with the Legal Media Centre, said that Roskomnadzor could only block resources within Russian territory and had no power to do so in Kazakstan.
“If they had powers and technical capacity to have influence on the Kazakstan-based part [of the internet], it could be described as an attempt against the sovereignty of Kazakstan-based media,” the lawyer said.
She argued that the ministry of information and public development should have issued a public statement over the demands and “explain that when such notices arrive, journalists may ignore them and no one will block them in the territory of Kazakstan”.
Karlygash Dzhamankulova, president of the Adil Soz international foundation for freedom of speech, also said that she expected a more coherent response from the state bodies. She wrote an open letter to the minister of foreign affairs of Kazakstan, Mukhtar Tleuberdi, and minister of information Darkhan Kydyrali, asking them to specify what international treaties allowed Roskomnadzor to issue summons to Kazak journalists, and what the official response would be.
“Censorship or validity of laws of other countries are not intended in the territory of our sovereign state. Protection of interests of our citizens and the state is all we ask from the governmental bodies,” Dzhamankulova concluded.
Approached for comment, the ministry of information and public development said that “decisions of a foreign agency have no legal force and may not be applied in the territory of the Republic of Kazakstan”.
Roskomnadzor did not respond to requests for comment.
At the time of writing, all Kazakstan-based media targeted by the Russian regulatory authority remained accessible in Russia, according to Roskomnadzor’s register of blocked resources.
This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.