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Kazakhstan: Livejournal Unblocked After 2 Years of Filtering

Livejournal, the most popular blogging platform in the Russian-language segment of the world wide web, was blocked by the national operator – and subsequently by other Internet service providers in Kazakhstan – in fall 2008.

No explanations were provided by the authorities or the ISPs, except for the highly controversial court decision, which in spring 2009 had ruled to block Livejournal, allegedly because of a mirror blog ran by Geokz.tv, a banned online media outlet.

However, when late last week the social network became accessible from Kazakhstan, its “lj” was still there. But another blog was suspended by the Livejournal Abuse Team.

Rakhat Aliyev, a former media and industry tycoon, also a former son-in-law of the incumbent president of Kazakhstan, was believed to be a sacred cow (just like any other member of the presidential family), an almighty husband of the eldest daughter of Nursultan Nazarbayev and even a probable successor to the incumbent.

But he fell out of grace in 2008 after he found himself in the middle of scandal, where too many evidences pointed at him as a man behind a series of kidnapping, raider and homicide. He fled the country and then started playing a card of a persecuted dissident, although his major weapon was not ideological opposition, but discrediting materials that he started distributing through new media – primarily, the top officials’ intercepted telephone conversations.

R. Aliev was tried in absentia for kidnapping and attempting a coup with the sentence of 40 years in jail. On November 9, less than one month before the OSCE Summit in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, his blog on Livejournal was “frozen” by the administration [ru]:

“This journal has been frozen, all posts in it are not accessible for reading. Due to confidentiality reasons, we do not discuss the reasons for which the account was frozen with anybody, except the owner of this account”.

R. Aliev wrote on his personal website that the Abuse Team's message was saying that the blog was closed for libel and intrusion into privacy, although previously he had received no warnings regarding the content. Aliev further speculates that the real reason for shutdown of his blog was that owners of LiveJournal were bribed by the Nazarbayev's proxies.

Since 2006, it is the Russian company “SUP” who excercises service for and control over the content, generated by the users speaking cyrillic-based languages. LiveJournal Russia denies [ru] that the company is eligible to make such decisions and that it cannot influence the Abuse Team. Dolboeb (a nickname for Anton Nosik, the former top manager at SUP) writes in his blog a little bit of a story's background [ru]:

Livejournal has suspended blog of Rakhat Aliev (…). This blog was the reason for two years of the whole website's blockage in Kazakhstan. When filtering was found not enough, their parliament adopted a law to regard any web-page as a media outlet – of course, not in terms of the same rights, but in terms of the criminal liability for the content.

In 2008, when the Kazakh authorities first approached Livejournal to solve the issue quietly, their call was not heard. But the management of @Mail.Ru [one of the top visited websites on the post-Soviet space], where Aliev also had a blog, reacted quickly to eliminate the troublesome blog – and no blockage was applied to @Mail.Ru.

The authorities in Kazakhstan never acknowledged that Aliev's page was a reason for the blockage – they were talking about technical problems on the side of Livejournal – or simply denying the fact of content filtering.

“So, for two years we were told that admins of SUP are too lame to deal properly with the servers (…) and now – voila. They have pretty plainly agreed that the reason was “rakhataliev”. Here's the agreement between the government of Kazakhstan and a commercial company – let's rejoice in happiness!

The whole story with Livejournal makes me feel scared. I am glad that I can read my friends without crooked ways of circumvention, but it is weird how they opened this access (…) A very strange demonstration of democracy…”, writes a-d-a [ru].

Rosvet adds [ru]:

Blockage has positively influenced my level of computer literacy – I got to know what is a proxy-server. Besides, I believe that it improved the quality of Kazakhstani Livejournal users – only the devoted ones have stayed on this blogging platform.

I do hope that Livejournal will not be blocked again after the OSCE Summit.

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