The only parliamentarian republic in Central Asia – Kyrgyzstan– has become the scene of a growing attack on Internet freedom. In the beginning of September, parliamentarians and security services proposed two new measures which, according to opinion leaders and experts, would increase censorship in an already restricted Internet landscape.
Last month, Kyrgyzstan’s security services announced that they are launching a system next spring that will search Kyrgyz-language websites and .kg websites for what it called “hate speech”. Critics of the measure worried it could lead to increased government surveillance and censorship.
The first of the new measures proposes tackling offensive content on the Internet in order to protect the welfare of children.
Natalya Nikitenko, a member of the Kyrgyz parliament and the initiator of this law, told K-News 12 September, officials just want to “draw the attention of children and their parents to the existence of the problem”:
Online media and television often contain information accompanied by scenes of violence, pornography, and the promotion of drugs. That can affect the outlook of a child and lead to disastrous consequences. Such rules have been in place for a long time in other countries and have been known to work efficiently.
However, the information portal Kloop cites human-rights activists emphasizing the similarities between the current law and the one passed a few weeks ago in Russia. The activists have found many similarities between the two laws.
An online petition against the measure has gathered the support of almost 10,000 Internet users, according to organizers. The initiators of the petition think that this law could lead to censorship and hinder the development of the Kyrgyz Internet.
I can’t see a clear way in which it will be implemented. For example, someone can write a comment at 4 am, when the site is poorly moderated, take a screenshot of the comment that offended someone and send the complaint. After five days this site will be shut down.
Daniel Vartanov, a software developer, told Net Prophet he didn’t see the relevance of any attempt to control the Internet:
Internet is not a place for posting information; it’s a place for exchanging information. Attempts to controlling Internet are like attempts to control phones or conversations in the street.
Denis Berdakov, the director of the social media marketing agency “Digital Empire” went into details to Net Prophet about the issue of blurred definitions:
The bill contains lots of illegal definitions that can serve to prohibit even cartoons for their promotion of violence, “unhealthy lifestyle”, and even for “non-standard moral values”. It is not clear how to detect illegal content, and as a result sites can be closed without a trial, based on the opinion of some “experts”. The purposefully blurred wording of the law is very general and copies that of existing laws already known to be inefficient. But the new law could “help” in dealing with sites that criticize the government or its officials.
Following the law proposed in the parliament, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Internal Affairs proposed their own measure to block web sites with “extremist” publications. The minister Zarylbek Rysaliev said that the rationale for the bill is that the state can’t block the sites if their server is located outside of Kyrgyzstan.
And again, the position of deputies and human rights activists varies. Kloop reported opinions from the different sides.
According to Irina Karamushkina, a member of the parliament, “the state must protect its citizens from extremist information”. Maksat Sabirov, another MP, sees the threat as coming from “many extremist religious organizations, which should be taken “care of”.
Igor Shestakov, a media expert, told Kloop that the bill violates freedom of speech and used the example of Ferghana.ru, a website blocked in February 2012 in Kyrgyzstan.
The government did not give concrete evidence of the reasons surrounding the banning of Ferghana.ru. I think that the government and the police are not professional enough and that such a measure as the proposed legislation could be used against freedom of speech and could put pressure on independent media.
Dmitry Kabak, a human rights activist, also believes that the state must first give a clear definition of “extremism” before passing the bill, according to Kloop.
As long as there are no clear definitions of what extremism means, any of us, including the site owners, can fall victim to illegal, unjustified measures.
One of the initiators of the petition against the law for protecting children Erkin Mamasaliev told Net Prophet that the desire to protect themselves from criticism periodically surfaces in officials.
Deputies and officials don’t understand the specifics of the Internet and from time to time want to close or restrict access to certain sites. We want to demonstrate through our activities that it is impossible to restrict Internet.
This law will be considered by the Committee of Parliament on 24 September. Activists planned a meeting with members of Parliament in 17 September, Mamasaliev said. They want to explain their position to officials and ensure that this law won’t be passed in its current form.
Front page photo courtesy Almutami, creative commons.