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On Eve Of Election Campaign, RFE's Websites Blocked In Kazakhstan

RFE/RL -- Kazakh Service promo graphic
RFE/RL -- Kazakh Service promo graphic

UPDATE: As of March 4, access to all RFE websites has been restored

On the eve of Kazakhstan's Presidential election campaign, RFE's websites in the country continue to be blocked. All RFE websites, including its Kazakh, Russian and English language sites, have been inaccessible via connections through the country's largest Internet service providers KazTelecom and Nursat since February 21.

In an unofficial conversation with RFE's Kazakh service, a member of Nursat's technical department admitted that the company is "blocking" RFE and that they "have to obey their bosses." Nursat and KazTelecom are closely associated with the Kazakh government.

[Read the related post on RFE's "Tangled Web" blog]

The block has been most severe in the country's largest city Almaty and in the southern and eastern regions of the country. Office buildings, where many of RFE's website visitors go on-line, have been most affected. Household connections are generally serviced by a different KazTelecom subsidiary and have not been disrupted.

"All of our sites are inaccessible, with short breaks of 15-20 minutes when there is access,” explained Yedige Maguin, the director of RFE's Kazakh Service, which is locally known as Radio Azattyq. “Those 'breaks' happened almost every 40-60 minutes. The same picture is being reported from our correspondents in the south of the country."

Officially, Nursat has denied any responsibility for the disruption. KazTelecom was contacted by RFE but has issued no response.

In the meantime, RFE has set up a proxy link that enables users from Kazakhstan to connect to the Internet and RFE's websites despite the blockage. There seems to be no interference with Radio Azattyq's radio transmissions at this point.

Presidential elections are set to take place in Kazakhstan on April 3rd. In January, President Nursultan Nazarbayev had called for early elections after scrapping a proposal to hold a referendum on extending his rule to 2020.

In 2008, RFE's Kazakh website suffered a protracted block. The Kazakh government denied responsibility for the problem, which persisted for over seven weeks.