Not Free
A Obstacles to Access 12 25
B Limits on Content 12 35
C Violations of User Rights 10 40
Last Year's Score & Status
32 100 Not Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

Internet freedom in Kazakhstan continues to face severe restrictions. Unlike during the previous coverage period, the government did not shut down the internet nationwide in response to protests; instead, it throttled internet access locally during protests and rallies. The government routinely blocks websites and orders the removal of content. Online journalists and individuals critical of the government continue to face legal repercussions, and this coverage period also witnessed an increase in physical attacks against online journalists and media outlets ahead of snap presidential and parliamentary elections. News outlets and government institutions experienced significant cyberattacks during the coverage period.

Several national elections were held during the coverage period. Changes to 33 articles of the constitution were approved by referendum in June 2022, and included removing the law giving former president Nursultan Nazarbaev special status. Incumbent president Qasym-Jomart Toqaev was reelected in November 2022, taking 81.3 percent of the vote according to government sources; Toqaev’s authoritarian regime was further entrenched following snap parliamentary elections held in March 2023, which saw Kazakhstan’s ruling party, Amanat, retain its majority in the legislature. None of the polls held during the coverage period were considered to be either free or fair by independent observers.

Former president Nazarbaev ruled Kazakhstan from 1990 to 2019, when he stepped down. Nazarbaev initially maintained significant influence over governance, which waned after the January 2022 protests and riots. In February 2023, President Toqaev invalidated the legal instruments that provided numerous privileges to Nazarbaev and his family members. Parliamentary and presidential elections are neither free nor fair, and major parties exhibit continued political loyalty to the government. The authorities have consistently marginalized or imprisoned genuine opposition figures. The dominant media outlets are either in state hands or owned by government-friendly businessmen. Freedoms of speech and assembly remain restricted, and corruption is endemic.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2022 - May 31, 2023

  • The government throttled access to the internet during local protests throughout the coverage period, but it did not launch a nationwide internet shutdown as it did during protests in January 2022, during the last coverage period (see A3).
  • Russian courts and regulators issued removal orders to Kazakhstani websites providing accurate coverage of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine; in response, the Kazakhstani government said that the websites were outside of Russian jurisdiction and did not violate Kazakhstani laws (see B2).
  • Online journalists were attacked and news outlets were vandalized ahead of both the November 2022 snap presidential elections and the March 2023 parliamentary elections (see C7).
  • During the electoral period, news outlets, government websites, and the internet backbone suffered significant cyberattacks, which government officials claimed originated from outside the country (see C8).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 5.005 6.006

Internet access has increased significantly over the past decade. According to official data from the Ministry of Digital Development, Innovation, and Aerospace Industry (MDDIAI), 96.2 percent of households have internet access, including access to mobile broadband.1 In 2022, the International Telecommunications Unit (ITU) reported an internet penetration rate of 92.3 percent, a fixed broadband penetration rate of 15.4 percent, and a mobile broadband penetration rate of 94.5 percent.2

The government’s Digital Kazakhstan program met its goal of increasing the internet penetration rate to 82.3 percent by 2022.3 The country’s mobile networks continue to expand. According to official data, broadband mobile internet is available to 94 percent of the population as of April 2023,4 including fourth-generation (4G) networks. Several mobile service providers piloted fifth-generation (5G) services during the coverage period. In June 2022, the MDDIAI announced that 5G networks would be launched in Almaty and Astana that September, and Shymkent by the end of 2022, with networks launched in other “regional centers” between 2023 and 2025.5 As of February 2023, no operators offered 5G services.

According to May 2023 testing data from Ookla, the median download speed of a fixed-line broadband connection in Kazakhstan was 39.6 megabits per second (Mbps) and the median mobile broadband download speed was 22.1 Mbps.6

Most people access the internet from their mobile devices at home and at work. In cities, including Almaty,7 Astana, and Pavlodar,8 high-speed internet is available in public transport and open spaces.

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 2.002 3.003

Both mobile and fixed-line internet connections remain relatively affordable, though operators have recently increased the costs of their postpaid plans or reduced their coverage.

The postpaid plans offered for fixed-line and, especially, mobile internet connections increased in cost during the coverage period. Operators either discontinued some of the attractive plans, reduced the data limits, or made them approximately 20 percent more expensive. In February 2023, Kazakhstan’s antimonopoly agency condemned the “ungrounded rise in the price of tariff plans” by mobile operators, which include new services that are not demanded by customers to justify the price increase.1 Still, all operators offer a range of affordable prepaid plans.

According to 2022 data from the ITU, 2 gigabytes (GB) of mobile data costs 0.83 percent of gross national income (GNI) per capita, while a 5 GB fixed-line broadband plan costs 0.62 percent of GNI per capita.2

Due to the sharp devaluation of the national currency in March 2022 and subsequent price spikes, the affordability of internet services relative to other costs of living decreased.3

Internet access is more limited in rural areas, where about 40 percent of the population resides as of 2022.4 As part of the Digital Kazakhstan program, the government pledged to eliminate the digital divide between urban and rural areas5 using 5G fixed wireless access (FWA).6 Mobile service providers have also shared network infrastructure to facilitate wider rural access,7 though provincial governors have still complained about the quality of access.8

Internet access is distributed relatively evenly across Kazakhstan’s ethnic communities.

There is no apparent gender-based internet access divide in Kazakhstan.9

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 3.003 6.006

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 3 because the government did not initiate a nationwide internet shutdown during protests as it did in January 2022.

During the coverage period, the government briefly throttled internet connections during local public protests and gatherings.

The government throttled internet connections locally at unsanctioned rallies in Almaty celebrating the nation’s Independence Day in December 2022, and on January 5, 2023, the one-year anniversary of the 2022 protests and ensuing violence.1 The government also throttled internet connections at protests in Almaty2 and Zhanaozen3 in April 2023. In previous years, the government has similarly disrupted the internet during protests and rallies.4 These disruptions usually do not last long and affect a narrow geographical area.

However, in January 2022, during the previous coverage period, the government disrupted nationwide internet access in response to protests, which were triggered by rising gas prices and were marred by violent responses from the authorities and armed groups in Almaty. Authorities throttled mobile internet services in West Kazakhstan Province on January 2, 2022, and initiated nationwide shutdowns beginning on January 4, when the government declared a state of emergency.5 Internet access was not fully restored across the country until January 11. During the internet shutdown, some users were able to access the internet through proxy servers (see C4).6

The government justified the January 2022 shutdown to stop alleged terrorism. Mobile service providers Kcell and Beeline explained “competent bodies” suspended communications as part of counterterrorist activities.7 Later media reports indicated that the government initially tried to use Russian deep packet inspection (DPI) technology to filter internet resources in a “more pointed” manner, but when this attempt failed, the authorities decided to block access totally.8

In November 2022, the MDDIAI announced the creation of a roster of internet resources with uninterrupted access during state of emergency situations. The roster is supposed to include vitally important state and private enterprises.9

Certain legal mechanisms allow the government to suspend telecommunications networks at will. According to a 2018 decree, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the National Security Committee (NSC) have priority access to telecommunications networks as well as the right to suspend those networks in an emergency, or the risk thereof. The decree does not specify limits on the duration of network suspensions.

The NSC has controlled the State Technical Service (STS), which has centralized telecommunication networks and internet exchange points (IXPs), since 2017,10 assuming the authority to block content and disrupt internet networks for countercriminal purposes. In October 2020, the government reorganized the STS11 into a state-owned joint-stock company,12 which still has the legal authority to censor content and restrict connectivity.13 The NSC can act without a court order, though it must notify other state bodies within 24 hours.14 A 2016 law empowers the NSC to suspend “networks and means of communication and access to the internet” in “urgent cases that may result in commitment of grave or especially grave crimes.”

Since 2012, amendments to the Law on National Security have allowed the government to forcibly suspend telecommunications during antiterrorist or riot-suppression operations.15 In 2014, the Prosecutor General’s Office was authorized to issue orders to shut down communication services without a court order if “networks are used for felonious aims to damage interests of individuals, society or state,” including the dissemination of illegal information and calls for extremism, terrorism, mass riots, or participation in unauthorized public gatherings.16 Orders must be executed by either telecommunications companies or the STS within three hours.

The government centralizes internet infrastructure in a way that facilitates control of content and surveillance. State-owned Kazakhtelecom, through its operations and through subsidiaries, holds a de facto monopoly on the country’s backbone internet infrastructure. The state’s supervision of the STS allows the authorities to exercise control over peering centers and international gateways.17 Amendments enacted in 2017 made the management of cross-border IXPs a state monopoly in the name of “information security.”18 In February 2019, KazNIC, the nonprofit registry for the country’s .kz domain, announced the launch of an independent IXP, but it offers peering only of domestic, not international, traffic.19

In September 2022, Kazakhtelecom and Azertelecom, a telecommunications company based in Azerbaijan, “signed a strategic partnership memorandum,” to cooperate in installing fiber-optic cables in the Caspian Sea. The strategic memorandum is a component of the “Digital Silk Way” project, which aims to create “a digital telecommunications corridor between Europe and Asia.”20

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 2.002 6.006

While the government does not intentionally keep new players out of the information communication technology (ICT) market, it is not actively seeking to make the market more diverse. Additionally, the state-facilitated merger of Kazakhtelecom with two major mobile service providers in 2019 has allowed the government to control a large share of the market.1 Kazakhtelecom’s only major competitor is the foreign-owned Kar-Tel (Beeline).2

There are several internet service providers (ISPs) in Kazakhstan, but Kazakhtelecom holds a dominant market position, controlling 75 percent of the fixed-line market and 78 percent of the mobile market.3 It fully or partially owns several other backbone and downstream ISPs. As of January 2023, the state owned 71.3 percent of Kazakhtelecom through Samruk-Kazyna, its sovereign wealth fund, and the Committee for State Property and Privatization under the Ministry of Finance.4 Skyline Investment Company, a Luxembourg-incorporated firm whose owner is former president Nazarbaev’s nephew Kairat Satybaldy,5 previously owned 24 percent of Kazakhtelecom;6 Satybaldy transferred his shares to the state7 in April 20228 after he was arrested on charges of embezzlement concerning Kazakhtelecom9 and “other crimes undermining the state security.”10

In October 2021, Kazakhtelecom sold 24 percent of mobile operator Kcell’s shares on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange. They were acquired by Jusanbank, which owns mobile service provider KazTransCom.11 In April 2022, the government investigated whether Kazakhtelecom’s sale and privatization of ISP Transtelecom constituted a “violation of state interests.” In August 2021, 75 percent of Transtelecom was sold to Unit Telecom, a company run by Nazarbaev’s grandson Nurali Aliev.12 Additionally, in July 2023,13 after the coverage period, MDDIAI minister Bagdat Musin announced future plans to sell one of the Kazakhtelecom-owned mobile service providers, which include Kcell and Tele2, to private entities; Musin also proposed a similar plan in April 2022.14

All mobile service providers were given the right in 2016 to offer 4G services.15 Since mid-2018, the government and mobile service providers have been moving toward the introduction of 5G services; pilot tests have taken place in Shymkent,16 Almaty, and Astana.17

Companies providing telecommunications services require an operating license from the MDDIAI’s Telecommunications Committee under the Law on Permissions and Notifications.18 The Law on National Security limits foreign ownership of companies providing telecommunications services.19 Moreover, these companies are required to purchase and install equipment related to the state’s System for Operational Investigative Measures (SORM), a lawful interception apparatus (see C5), and to bear costs related to data-retention obligations (see C6). These companies are also required to cover costs related to the database of international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) codes (see C4)20 and to pay regular fees to the State Radio Frequency Service, the IMEI database operator. These obligations may deter new players from entering the ICT market.

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 0.000 4.004

The MDDIAI is responsible for the telecommunications sector (including ICT infrastructure), e-government, and cybersecurity. The Ministry of Information and Social Development (MISD) oversees mass media, including online content. Until the first half of 2019, both online content and the telecommunications sector were supervised by the now-defunct Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC).1 Ministers are nominated by the prime minister and appointed by the president. The ministries’ operations are not transparent or subject to independent oversight.

The NSC has increased its power to make decisions about ICT infrastructure and online content. In 2018, a cybersecurity entity called the National Coordination Center for Information Security was launched under the NSC’s supervision;2 its workings remain secret.3

The .kz country domain is managed by the nonprofit KazNIC registry. The Kazakhstan Association of IT Companies administers domain names and regulates KazNIC tariffs. A 2015 law granted the government the power to appoint both the registrar and the domain name administrator.4

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 2.002 6.006

The government has extensive authority to block online content and can compel ISPs to restrict access to “unlawful materials.” If ISPs fail to block content in a timely manner, the STS restricts access directly and the ISPs may face fines.

In response to an access-to-information inquiry, the MISD specified that in 2022, 14,469 pages were blocked following 774 requests from the regulator. Only 241 of those were registered in the .kz domain zone. Between January and May 2023, 6,175 more pages were blocked, 6,047 of which were based abroad. The main reasons for blocking included dissemination of false information, use of the internet to commit criminal and administrative offenses, terrorist and extremist propaganda, and copyright violations, as well as hosting content related to pornography, suicide, narcotics, and online gambling. According to the MISD, there are over 68,000 banned web pages as of May 2023.1

In October and November 2022, around the time of the snap presidential elections, users reported issues accessing the websites of the BBC, several Russian media outlets,2 and Azattyq, the Kazakh service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).3 Users also reported experiencing intermittent problems accessing YouTube’s website and application in October 2022.4

In October 2022, the Talgar district court approved the prosecutor’s request to order the MISD to block the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website because a news item allegedly displayed “suicide propaganda.”5 It was later specified that the court ordered the blocking of one page on the WHO website, but the government did not have the technical capacity to restrict single pages on resources using Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), so it blocked the entire website.6 The ministry complied, but then asked the court to revise the decision, citing “reputational and other risks.” The Ministry of Health also intervened, and in January 2023 the WHO’s website was unblocked after the organization altered the disputed suicide-related newsletter.7

In January 2022, the authorities blocked access to independent news sites, including Orda.kz,8 prior to a total internet blackout and after it partially restored access to the internet (see A3). In late January 2022, news site Kokshetau Asia was blocked for several days following the prosecution of its chief editor Nurzhan Baimuldin, who was accused of provocative actions during the state of emergency for his critical posts on Facebook (see C3).9

In October 2021, HOLA News was blocked for 10 days after the website refused to remove information from the Pandora Papers that implicated members of former president Nazarbaev’s inner circle (see B2).10

Archive.org, petition website Change.org, and some foreign media outlets, including Kyrgyzstani news site Kloop and Russian-language news sites Fergana and Meduza, remained inaccessible during the coverage period.

Users who wish to circumvent censorship still use virtual private networks (VPNs), although most anonymizing tools are blocked (see C4).11 The authorities have confirmed that they can block VPNs using court decisions or orders from the MISD (see B3).12 In March 2023, hidemy.name, a Belize-based VPN service that was banned along with approximately 150 other VPNs in 2020, stated that it would appeal the ban in courts.13

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 1.001 4.004

The authorities use various nontechnical means to enforce the removal of content, including direct legal pressure on outlets to take down specific material and similar requests aimed at international social media platforms. There was a notable increase in cases of reported removal requests originating from the Russian government during the coverage period.

According to the MISD, in 2022 and the first five months of 2023, the regulator issued 4,116 removal requests, including 134 targeting websites based in Kazakhstan’s domain. The removal requests covered 93,014 pages, 692 of which were based in Kazakhstan,1 and 29,543 pages were taken down in response to the requests. The government has not disclosed more detailed statistics.

During the coverage period, Kazakhstani news outlets received several removal orders from Russian courts and regulators. In February 2023, a Russian court issued a subpoena to the Kazakhstani news site Arbat.media, accusing it of “discrediting the Russian army,” after sending an initial request in November 2022 ordering the website to remove an article written that September about Russia’s looming defeat in Kharkiv.2 Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Kazakhstan is beyond the jurisdiction of Russian courts, and that Arbat.media did not violate any national laws.

In December 2022, Roskomnadzor, the Russian telecommunications and media regulator, demanded that news site Vlast.kz remove several articles about the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, including articles covering the killing of civilians in Mariupol, but the website declined the request.3 Informburo.kz, a news site, also received a removal demand in December, concerning an article containing updates about the war in Ukraine. The website reported that it had begun receiving removal requests from Roskomnadzor in 2020, and had restricted the content in Russia, but not to its audience in Kazakhstan.4

In August 2022, Ratel.kz also received a removal order from Roskomnadzor after publishing an article questioning how long Russian citizens would support the Russian government’s war in Ukraine. The outlet refused to remove the material in question.5

In April 2022, Roskomnadzor requested that Kazakhstani news site NewTimes.kz delete an article about sanctions against Russia, threatening to block it in Russia if it failed to comply. The request was sent to the hosting company, and the outlet decided to comply.6

Amid the January 2022 protests, at least two major news sites—KazTAG7 and Fergana8 —received takedown requests from the MISD regarding their protest-related coverage and were blocked after they refused to comply (see B1). That January, an Orda.kz reporter was also forced to delete photos taken at Republic Square in Almaty.9

According to Meta’s transparency report covering the first half of 2022, the company did not restrict any content based on requests from the Kazakhstani government.10 In the same period, Google received 64 removal requests from the authorities, targeting 23,805 items, but it did not take any actions based on the requests. Between July and December 2022, Google received 61 takedown requests from the government and courts, targeting 738 items. Google removed 8.3 percent of the requested items because they violated company policy and 0.9 percent based on legal demands. The requests in 2022 mostly concerned national security, fraud, defamation, and regulated goods and services.11 Twitter did not produce a report on content removal during the coverage period.

In 2016, the government adopted new rules for the monitoring of media, including social media, using the Automated System of Monitoring the National Information Space12 to uncover illegal content online (see C5). The authorities have continued to conduct manual monitoring since then.13 The system, which reportedly cost $4.5 million,14 became operational in 2020, according to the government’s response to an access-to-information request.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 1.001 4.004

Extralegal blocking remains a common practice and website blocking and content-removal procedures lack transparency. In recent years, the government has developed several legal avenues to block websites and remove content.

According to the Mass Media Law,1 all internet resources, including websites and pages on social media platforms, are considered media outlets. Under 2014 amendments to the law, the Prosecutor General’s Office is authorized to order ISPs to block content without a court order. ISPs must comply with such requests until the website owner deletes the content in question. The law provides no leeway for an ISP to reject the order or for the website owner to appeal.2 The MISD has the authority to issue takedown and blocking orders until website owners remove specific content. The NSC also has the right to unilaterally suspend access to websites or information they host “in cases of emergency that may result in criminal actions,” and need only to notify the Prosecutor General’s Office and regulator afterward.

By equating all internet resources with media outlets, the Mass Media Law makes web publishers—including bloggers and social media users—liable for the content they post, but the law does not specify whether publishers are responsible for content posted by third parties. Social media users can be held liable for extremist comments posted on their pages by third parties, as permitting the publication of extremist materials in a mass media outlet is an offense under the criminal code that can be punished with up to 90 days in prison.

A new draft law on mass media has been in development since 2022. The government convened a working group that included journalists and media rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide feedback on the law, but a draft released in February 2023 did not align with the suggestions of the working group and was condemned by many in the professional media community. The draft, produced by an interagency government commission, continues to define all online publishers as mass media, and includes an indefinite statute of limitations for cases concerning the protection of honor and dignity, which the working group suggested should be a one-year limitation. The draft also allows de facto censorship in “specific conditions,” an unclear designation that critics fear would be broadly applied.3 The draft law remained under consideration by the parliament at the end of the coverage period.

In May 2022, the government enacted the Law on Amendments and Additions to Some Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the Protection of the Rights of the Child, Education, Information, and Informatization, also referred to as the Cyberbullying Law or the Law on Protection of Children’s Rights. The amendments compel websites, messaging applications, and social media platforms to delete illegal content related to cyberbullying in 24 hours, and grant the government the authority to “restrict the activity” of noncompliant platforms, including by blocking them.4 Under the amendments, platforms with at least 100,000 daily users are also required to appoint a special representative for direct communication with the MISD to promptly react to content-removal requests within 24 hours of such a request.5

In July 2022, new amendments to the governmental decree that regulates the MISD’s authority were adopted to bolster the MISD’s ability to enforce measures in the Cyberbullying Law. For example, the MISD is authorized to request the number of daily users of messaging apps and social media platforms in Kazakhstan. It is also authorized to restrict the work of these internet resources in cases of noncompliance.6

Under amendments made in September 2020, websites in the .kz and .ҚАЗ domain names can be suspended if they are physically hosted outside of Kazakhstan, do not have a safety certificate (see A3 and C6), or their software is hosted outside of Kazakhstan.7 In December 2020, the regulator said the amendments were needed to manage domestic data centers’ workload and to pursue “digital sovereignty.”8

Amendments to the Communications Law in 2016 obliged ISPs to monitor content passing through their networks and to decide whether to restrict any problematic material.9 The amendments do not specify how ISPs are to carry out this obligation. The administrative code, in force since 2016, imposes fines on ISPs for not complying with censorship orders.10

To avoid having a website or page permanently blocked and to escape legal liability, owners of internet resources must remove content that is deemed extremist or is otherwise banned. Once illegal content is identified, ISPs and the STS must suspend access to the entire website within three hours. The party responsible for the content then receives a request for its removal; if the party complies, ISPs and the STS must unblock the website.11

Websites can also be blocked by court order, even in the absence of the defendant’s representative. No notification—to the public or the website owner—about the reason for the blocking is required. The courts frequently issue orders to block websites, banning dozens at a time, mostly on the grounds of religious extremism. The appeals procedure is opaque. An individual must apply for judicial approval simply to view court rulings on blocking cases.12

In 2017, the regulator launched a pilot version of a blocked websites roster, which users could check to determine whether a website was blocked. Many blocked websites were not listed.13

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 1.001 4.004

Self-censorship in the media is pervasive, even among independent online news outlets, because existing legislation often contains ambiguity. However, after the resignation of former president Nazarbaev in 2019, many users have visibly become more outspoken in online discussions even as most generally avoid a range of taboo topics. Online media workers continue to test boundaries, despite facing legal harassment and physical violence (see C3 and C7).

A May 2023 report on self-censorship in Kazakhstan found that journalists censor themselves for an array of reasons, including fear of repercussions for negatively covering oligarchs, the views of media outlets’ owners, and repressive state policies.1

The January 2022 protests and the ensuing crackdown sparked a wave of legal and extralegal prosecution of critics and content-removal orders (see B2 and C3). In March 2022, the Prosecutor General’s Office issued a statement urging Kazakhstani citizens to refrain from sharing provocative information, information considered false, or inciting hatred while discussing the full-scale Russian military invasion of Ukraine online.2

A 2017 law prohibits anonymous online comments (see C4).3 Although this ban is loosely observed, it limits the space for free speech on popular news sites that comply.

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 1.001 4.004

Compared with print and broadcast media, the online media landscape remains a freer space for reporting and self-expression. While social media platforms remain the most liberal setting for the public exchange of news and opinions, online discourse is prone to manipulation, including by commentators paid by the government.1 According to one analysis, the activities of paid commentators serve to distract internet users in times of crisis and to play up the state’s successes. Observers reported that bots posted messages in support of President Toqaev ahead of the November 2022 presidential elections.2

In June 2022, duplicates of four Kazakhstani news sites appeared on the internet, each containing the same pro-Kremlin article on Russia-Kazakhstan relations. The URLs of the duplicate sites mimicked the original websites’ URLs, differing only by one letter. The hosting company ultimately stopped hosting the duplicate sites, leaving them inaccessible.3

Following the Russian military’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Margulan Akan, an editor at Bugin Media, reported that a government official privately requested that he write a Facebook post in support of the Kremlin-helmed Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Though he declined the request, he soon began to see government officials and social media users post similar text in support of the EEU. According to Bella Orynbetova, a journalist who previously worked for progovernment media outlets, individuals or entities associated with the government will pay influencers 50,000 tenge ($98) to post in support of government policies.4

During the January 2022 protests and the ensuing violence, information was scarce and there were instances of unverifiable information spread by government officials. For example, President Toqaev claimed 20,000 terrorists had attacked Kazakhstan. The unsubstantiated allegation was later said by an analyst close to the presidential administration to be deliberate misinformation funneled to the president by conspirators from the NSC leadership.5 Later, President Toqaev himself confirmed this claim.6 Disinformation also spread through messaging services. The government also pledged to “punish those spreading falsehoods and rumors online.”7

In December 2020, Facebook identified a network of 59 accounts, on both Facebook and Instagram, connected to the NSC and an antiextremism unit of a regional police department, which became active after a wave of political protests in 2019 and 2020 but was largely inactive by the time Facebook removed it from the platform.8

Officials, civil servants, and employees of state-owned companies are obliged to follow a set of guidelines on their internet use. These guidelines urge them not to post or repost materials that are critical of the government and not to “friend” the authors of such material to preserve the image of the public sector and prevent the dissemination of false information or leaks.9

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 1.001 3.003

Most major nonstate online news media outlets are affiliated with government officials or business figures with ties to the government. These outlets are likely to be recipients of government procurement contracts to produce favorable reporting. Indeed, many outlets, including domestic privately owned blogging platforms, are frequent recipients of such contracts.1 According to IREX’s 2022 Vibrant Information Barometer (VIBE), many media outlets that receive state funding avoid angering the government to ensure more funding and try not to disclose that they are recipients of state funding.2

According to research conducted by the Soros Foundation Kazakhstan, the government spent 41.7 to 47.1 billion tenge ($94.6 to $106.9 million) annually between 2016 and 2020 to implement its information agenda.3 The Legal Media Center, an NGO focused on media rights, sued the MISD to demand information about all media contracts, but a court rejected the case in January 2018, citing “commercial secrecy,” a talking point the MISD repeated when it faced similar questions in October 2020.4 Overall, the volume of state media contracts has exceeded the advertising market for several years in a row.5 Although the government made it difficult to trace and generalize data regarding state procurement contracts with mass media outlets, NGOs assert that the total amount of spending may reach 100 billion tenge a year ($226.9 million).6 The draft law on mass media introduced in February 2023 (see B3) does not require additional transparency concerning these contracts.7

The draft law on mass media would also require news outlets, including online outlets, to follow government instructions in “specific conditions,” which is a vague term that can be applied at any time, including during crises. Additionally, as in the existing law on mass media, the draft law defines all online publishers as mass media (see B3).8

In July 2023, after the coverage period, President Toqaev enacted the Law on Online Platforms and Online Advertising (see C2), requiring social media users who earn revenue through their content—including influencers—to pay a tax ranging from 3 to 10 percent on any income they generate.9

Online news media are not required to register with the government. There are no serious restrictions on their access to advertising, but periodic blocking discourages businesses from placing ads on independent news sites. Furthermore, the digital media market in Kazakhstan, as in many other countries, is quite small. According to the 2022 VIBE, most media in Kazakhstan depend on state financing or grants from international organizations.10 Online outlets’ ability to remain in business is also limited by certain regulations, including a 20 percent cap on foreign stakes in any company.11

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 2.002 4.004

Despite the challenging business environment for independent outlets, a small number of respected and critical websites continue to operate in Kazakhstan. The restrictions on the online media market remain less severe than those on the traditional media sector.

International social media and communications platforms are accessible and popular, although connectivity is sometimes restricted (see A3 and B1). According to DataReportal, which measures aggregate users across various platforms as opposed to unique individuals, there were 11.85 million social media users in Kazakhstan as of January 2023.1

In October 2022, ISP and mobile operator Beeline announced that it would stop broadcasting 15 Russian TV channels in its digital television package. Following reported consultations with Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development, Communications, and Mass Media, Beeline reversed this decision.2

Users can freely access most international news platforms, but only some Kazakhstanis consume content in English. While there is much more domestic online content available in Russian than in Kazakh, including on news portals and social media, the volume of Kazakh-language content is gradually increasing.

Tools like VPNs are widely used to circumvent sporadic blocking, although the authorities have blocked some VPN services (see C4).

All public institutions are required to provide at least Kazakh- and Russian-language versions of their websites, and many private-sector entities follow this example. The country has started transitioning from the Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin alphabet, with the stated aim of making the Kazakh language compatible with most encoding and fonts for digital communications.3

B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 3.003 6.006

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because there were fewer restrictions on online organizing during the coverage period.

Social media platforms and other digital tools are used for civic and political organizing in Kazakhstan. Popular platforms are subject to periodic restrictions, particularly ahead of and during demonstrations. Discussions of political or social issues on social media platforms are often eclipsed by sensationalist content that is widely shared online.

During and after the January 2022 protests and the ensuing violence, the authorities claimed they disrupted online communications to prevent the spread of information and use of apps for coordinating “riots.” They also cracked down on individuals who shared footage of the events (see C3). However, shortly after the January 2022 protests, civil society and the general public started to advocate for more significant political transformation, which Toqaev had promised when he was elected in 2019. This resulted in significant activity both online1 and offline,2 including multiple online petitions as well as several rallies and humanitarian initiatives that mobilized participants, mainly through social media. For example, in March 2022, over 2,000 people attended a rally supporting Ukraine.3

In September 2021, civil society representatives created a petition against the Cyberbullying Law (see B3).4 In March and April 2022, people who opposed the bill held protests in Almaty and Astana, then called Nur-Sultan.5

The authorities sometimes block messaging apps or internet access ahead of protests to prevent users from accessing group chats to coordinate protest actions, including those run by the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), a banned opposition party. Informants have infiltrated critical groups on Telegram and other platforms to build cases for prosecutions.6

Many online petition websites remain blocked to prevent campaigning. In December 2022, the Majilis, Parliament’s lower chamber, approved the first reading of the draft law on public oversight, which includes an online petitioning mechanism. Under the draft law, a special online platform will be created to host electronic petitions to local and national state bodies. Those bodies would be obligated to consider a petition if it reaches a certain threshold of signatures, though the threshold differs for each body.7 The MISD initially announced its intention to create an official petition platform in 2019.8

Police routinely summon activists ahead of planned protests to warn them against holding demonstrations, intimating that they will face consequences, or preemptively detain them to prevent their participation.9

C Violations of User Rights

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 1.001 6.006

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but this right is qualified by other laws and severely restricted in practice by prohibitions on defamation, publication of false information, and other speech-related offenses (see C2). In June 2022, following a national referendum, the government published amendments to the constitution that transfer some of the president’s powers to the parliament.1 During the protests and ensuing violence in January 2022, Toqaev temporarily declared a state of emergency, which criminalized “mass gatherings.”2

Although internet resources are deemed mass media outlets, bloggers do not enjoy the same rights as journalists, and even formally employed journalists face numerous restrictions on their work. In February 2019, for example, the regulator said it would further restrict journalists’ already limited access to events at state bodies.3 Police and government supporters who harass bloggers and journalists are seldom punished and enjoy de facto immunity. Nevertheless, the government’s plan for the development of Kazakhstan’s information sphere, adopted in April 2020, envisions raising the profile of bloggers, including by according them the right to be accredited by various government institutions.4

The president appoints all judges, and the judiciary is not independent in practice. The Constitutional Court was abolished in 1995 and replaced with the Constitutional Council, to which citizens and public associations were not eligible to submit complaints. However, during the coverage period, as part of President Toqaev’s reform agenda and as a result of a nationwide referendum on constitutional amendments in June 2022, the Constitutional Court was restored. The court started accepting citizens’ appeals in January 2023, and as of February 24, 2023, nearly 1,500 complaints had been submitted; over 1,000 had received a written explanation, approximately 400 were under consideration, and 27 were under preliminary review.5

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 0.000 4.004

The government uses several provisions in the criminal code and the code of administrative offenses to restrict forms of online expression that may be protected under international human rights standards.1 Vaguely worded legislation leaves ample space for interpreting criticism and opinions as defamation or extremism.

Article 174 of the criminal code prescribes fines of up to $50,000, up to 7 years of probation, or imprisonment of up to 20 years for the incitement of class, ethnic, national, religious, or social hatred.2 The maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment can be awarded if the crime is “committed by a criminal group or entails severe consequences.” Prosecutions under Article 174 are widespread, and human rights advocates have repeatedly voiced concerns about the lack of clarity in its terminology, especially the concept of “social” hatred.3 Article 179 prescribes 5 to 10 years in prison for “propaganda or public calls” for the seizure of power or “forcible change of the constitutional order” when made using mass media or telecommunications, while Article 256 prescribes 7 to 12 years in prison for “public appeals to commit an act of terrorism” made through the same means.4 Article 274 prohibits the dissemination of rumors or “knowingly false information that creates the danger of disrupting public order or causing substantial harm” to citizens, organizations, or the state, which is also punishable by up to seven years in prison in the most extreme cases.5

In March 2023, President Toqaev signed into law amendments to the criminal code that prescribe stricter penalties for incitement to riots using telecommunications networks, with possible sentences ranging from three to seven years’ imprisonment.6

In June 2020, President Toqaev signed into law amendments decriminalizing defamation.7 The amendments move defamation from Article 130 of the criminal code to the code of administrative offenses, which entails a fine of $1,000 to $3,500 or 15 to 20 days’ administrative detention. If the act of defamation was made publicly, via mass media, or on ICT networks, the fine increases to between $1,200 and $4,200, and the detention period increases to 20 to 25 days; if the act of defamation contains accusations of corruption against a public official, the administrative detention period can reach up to 30 days. Under these amendments, Article 174 remains in the criminal code, although the word “provocation” was changed to “incitement,” and violators can face fines ranging from $13,000 to $45,000 instead of prison sentences in some cases.8

However, insult remains a crime. The criminal code provides stricter punishments for insulting state officials, judges, and lawmakers. Government officials and progovernment business magnates have a history of using defamation and insult charges to punish critical reporting. In January 2023, President Toqaev announced that he was nullifying a law that had prevented insults against former president Nazarbaev and his family members. 9 The Ministry of Justice confirmed that it will introduce amendments to the criminal code eliminating these special protections.10 However, as of May 2023, articles criminalizing the desecration of Nazarbaev’s image and insulting Nazarbaev or members of his family remained in the criminal code.

In July 2023, after the coverage period, the government enacted the Law on Online Platforms and Online Advertising (see B6), which stipulates that individuals who post false information on social media can be fined 69,000 tenge ($147); business influencers can be fined up to 138,000 tenge ($294).11

In 2015, the MIC, which was later dissolved and had its duties transferred to the MISD, stated that social media users could be held liable for extremist comments posted on their pages by third parties, an offense under Article 183 of the criminal code and punishable by up to 50 days in jail.12 Users who post or share such content may be fined for its “production, storage, import, transportation, and dissemination,” and in some cases, jailed for up to 20 years under Article 174 of the criminal code.13

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 2.002 6.006

Individuals, including journalists, are frequently penalized for online activities. Kazakhstani authorities have a long track record of issuing charges of defamation and, more recently, the dissemination of false information as a pretext to silence or punish critics. Arrests related to the January 2022 protests and subsequent state of emergency continued during the coverage period.1

In March 2023, blogger Duman Mukhametkerim, who contested the parliamentary elections that month, spent 25 days under administrative arrest for allegedly calling for “mass riots” after he called for protests against the “fraudulent” election results in a YouTube video.2 In April 2023, opposition politician Nurjan Altaev was arrested and jailed for 15 days for allegedly calling for mass riots after he livestreamed from a police station in Astana, calling on people in the city to rally in support of oil workers who had been detained for striking.3

In February 2023, critical blogger Makhambet Abzhan was sentenced to nine years in jail for allegedly extorting a businessman and blackmailing him with the publication of defamatory materials.4 Abzhan had initially been imprisoned for two months on these charges, which other journalists condemned as a ”political hunt,” in July 2022.5 Previously, in January 2022, police in Astana, then called Nur-Sultan, briefly detained Abzhan,6 who was covering protest rallies in the capital, and later tried to storm his apartment (see C7). Fearing for his safety, Abzhan went into hiding until later that month, when he resurfaced and told the media that he had been designated as a witness in a criminal case7 that involved his interview with Dozhd, an independent Russian television channel.8

In December 2022, Mikhail Kozachkov, a prominent investigative journalist at the newspaper Vremya (Time) and administrator of a popular Telegram channel, was arrested by the Financial Monitoring Agency (FMA), a special service dealing with economic crimes,9 charged him with disseminating false and discrediting information that aided the mafia in launching illegal hostile takeovers.10 Vremya denounced the prosecution as politically motivated, saying that Kozachkov was arrested in retaliation for his investigative and critical journalistic work.11 Adil Soz, the country’s largest media rights watchdog, made a statement condemning alleged procedural violations in the case, including by the FMA.12 Kozachkov denied the accusations,13 and a number of Kazakhstani and international organizations urged the government to release him.14 In February 2023, he was released from the detention facility and placed under house arrest.15 The case remained ongoing as of the end of the coverage period.

In November 2022, environmental activist Nikolai Katchiev, who advocated against corruption schemes allegedly involving local factories and the municipal administration in Bestobe, was detained and interrogated. The authorities also searched his house and seized his laptop. He is currently accused of disseminating patently false information in his YouTube videos. In 2021, he was found guilty of the same crime and sentenced to one year of probation.16

In August 2022, Aya Sadvakasova, an activist from Stepnogorsk, was sentenced to three years’ probation for allegedly disseminating false information via social media during the January 2022 protests; she was also accused of being a member of the banned DVK. According to media reports, as of August 2022, 11 criminal cases related to “fake news dissemination” during the January protests and ensuing violence had been opened, with at least one case resulting in a sentence of one year of probation.17

In June 2022, the minister of education and science, Sayasat Nurbek, sued journalist Gulbanu Abenova over a November 2020 Facebook post in which she alleged that Nurbek might be involved in corruption schemes. In September 2022, the court ruled in favor of Nurbek, requiring Abenova to pay the minister one million tenge ($2,178) as compensation for “moral damage.”18

In March 2022, bloggers Margulan Boranbay and Danat Namazbaev were sentenced to five years in prison for “incitement of interethnic strife” for their Facebook posts, which called for a change in government and advocated for accountability for corrupt government officials. Both were known as critics of the government, Russian imperialism, and Moscow’s war against Ukraine. Boranbay was previously arrested in October 2020 on similar charges and had since been under house arrest.19 According to the March 2022 court ruling, he will be denied the right to engage in media-related activities for three years after his release.20 In July 2022, an Almaty court denied their appeal and added two months to Boranbay’s sentence.21

In May 2021, Temirlan Ensebek, a blogger who ran a satirical social media account, was arrested for allegedly spreading “misinformation and misleading the public,” despite the fact that Ensebek deleted the account several months before he was detained.22 His laptop and mobile phones were confiscated.23 Ensebek was interrogated and released, but he faced charges of “dissemination of patently false information, posing a hazard of significant damage to rights and lawful interests of citizens, society, and state,”24 which can result in fines up to $20,000 or a 3-year prison term.25 The case against Ensebek was ultimately dismissed in September 2022.26

The authorities are known to use terrorism and extremism charges, including “provocation of hatred” (Article 174 of the criminal code), to prosecute online activity,27 usually applying “restricted freedom,” or suspended sentences.28 Local human rights advocates have criticized the lack of expertise among judges and prosecutors evaluating extremism or terrorism charges.29 There were no major cases using this legal ground for prosecution for online activities recorded during the coverage period.

In past years, the authorities routinely arrested and prosecuted individuals for posting critical commentary online, especially online activities related to the banned DVK. The classification of the DVK as an extremist group made it illegal to disseminate its content online, including through private messages.30

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 1.001 4.004

The government places restrictions on anonymous communication. Since December 2017, users have been required to identify themselves using government-issued digital signature technology or short-message service (SMS) verification in order to comment on domestic websites;1 failure to enforce the rule can lead to fines.2 Some news outlets and other sites introduced identification functionality in response to the requirement, but more simply disabled their comment sections, inviting readers to comment on social media platforms instead.

The government is cracking down on VPNs and other anonymizing tools with court orders.3 Websites of popular VPNs, including TunnelBear and TouchVPN, are inaccessible. In 2020, the regulator blocked 148 circumvention tools (see B1).4 In March 2023, Belize-based VPN hidemy.name, which was banned in 2020, announced that it would challenge the ban in court (see B1).5

Encryption tools are not restricted, but most users do not employ them. When internet access was restricted during the January 2022 protests, neither VPN gateways nor other circumvention tools, including the built-in VPNs in the Telegram app, were available. However, some users were able to gain access because Kazakhstanis living abroad set up proxy servers, primarily for Telegram.6

SIM card registration is required for mobile phone users. The government also requires users to register all devices that use mobile networks with their mobile service providers, linking a person’s government-issued identification, SIM card information, and device IMEI codes. Under 2018 legal amendments, unregistered mobile devices were to be disabled by service providers beginning in January 2019.7 In October 2019, the authorities enabled the IMEI code system, forcing operators to disable numerous unregistered devices (see A3 and A4). By law, operators are prohibited from providing services to clients with unregistered devices.8

Authorities presented the 2018 amendments as a means of fighting mobile device theft, counterfeiting, and terrorism.9 However, human rights advocates warned of their effects on user privacy and their potential to enable surveillance by effectively linking personal identification numbers, SIM cards, and IMEI codes.10 The technical capacity to disable a device was reportedly used to target activists during the protests during and after the 2019 presidential elections.11

Since 2016, users have had to obtain an SMS code to access public Wi-Fi networks, which opens the door to surveillance because of the country’s SIM card registration requirement.12 Businesses can be fined up to 300,000 tenge ($680) for failing to comply with the new rules, while users can be fined up to 30,000 tenge ($68).13 As of 2021, only larger restaurant chains had introduced this system.

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2.002 6.006

It is difficult to estimate the extent of government surveillance in Kazakhstan, but users in the country have been targeted by spyware. Digital rights groups allege that large-scale surveillance infrastructure is in place. The government employs SORM technology, which originated in Russia and is similar to that employed by other former Soviet countries, for DPI purposes and other functions. An investigation by the news site Vlast published in February 2019 revealed a vast network of ties between Kazakhstan and Russia in the area of cybersecurity.1

In June 2022, Inga Imanbai, who is married to unregistered Democratic Party leader Janbolat Mamai, reported that her phone had been infected with Hermit spyware, which can record audio and extract information from Android devices.2 Imanbai’s claim came just days after Lookout Threat Lab released an investigation revealing that the Kazakhstani government had “probably” purchased Hermit from the Italian company RCS Labs and used it to target domestic actors.3 The software reportedly resembles the Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, which the government has also allegedly used, and specifically targets Android devices.4

In July 2021, Forbidden Stories, a French nonprofit news outlet, and a coalition of news organizations including the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), identified phone numbers linked to Kazakhstani oligarchs and political figures in a leaked dataset. Investigators described the dataset as a list of people of interest to clients of the NSO Group, which sells Pegasus. According to the investigation, almost 2,000 Kazakhstani phone numbers were selected for targeting during former president Nazarbaev’s rule.5 Numbers belonging to President Toqaev, then prime minister Askar Mamin, prominent political figures, oligarchs close to Nazarbaev, and opposition figures were among them. The government has repeatedly denied the allegations. Additionally, two Kazakhstani journalists identified their numbers on the list.6

In November 2021, six activists from Oyan Kazakhstan, a proreform youth movement, received messages from Apple warning them that their devices might have been compromised by Pegasus.7 A forensic investigation conducted by Amnesty International’s Security Lab confirmed that four activists’ devices had been infected with the spyware.8

In January 2018, new NSC–developed technical regulations for SORM entered into force.9 Local human rights monitors have since alleged that law enforcement bodies and special services watch and wiretap phone conversations of opposition activists without following proper procedures.10

Various authorities monitor internet traffic. The STS is responsible for overseeing cross-border network traffic through a system called the Centralized Management of Telecommunication Networks. All telecommunications service providers must be connected to this system and are required to grant authorities physical access to their control centers.11 Kazakhtelecom, which maintains a DPI system separate from SORM, insists that it is used for traffic management and provides no access to users’ personal data.12

A root security certificate called the Qaznet Trust Certificate had been introduced legally in 2016.13 Since then it has been “tested” several times in Astana.14 Users were warned15 that they might have difficulty accessing foreign websites, which were often inaccessible during these tests, if they chose to not install the certificate.16 The certificate’s introduction was justified as a means of fighting the theft of users’ personal data, fraud, and other online threats, including cyberattacks.17 In July 2019, the NSC admitted that the certificate enables it to decrypt secure traffic but said it did not plan to store and view the details of citizens’ online activities.18

In early August 2019, the NSC declared that the certificate’s trial period was over, claiming that the pilot test allowed it to test its cybersecurity systems as well as reveal and prevent millions of cybersecurity incidents.19 Apple, Google, and Mozilla promised to ban the certificate from their respective web browsers (Safari, Chrome, and Firefox) to ensure that their users’ personal data were not intercepted.20 In December 2020, these companies, along with Microsoft, followed through and banned the certificate from their networks and software.21

The authorities appear to engage in social media surveillance, including under the auspices of the MISD22 and via contractors like Alem Research and IMAS, a private company that advertises a “monitoring system” that conducts this type of social media surveillance. IMAS’s clients include the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Justice, and various local government administrations.23

In May 2022, the Prosecutor General’s Office reported that the Ministry of Internal Affairs had obtained special equipment and software to monitor social networking sites and identify users of social media and messaging applications.24 According to government officials, they obtained this equipment to prevent scams, fraud, and Ponzi schemes.

Activists using social media are occasionally intercepted or punished, sometimes preemptively, by authorities who have prior knowledge of their planned activities.25 Reports have emerged that authorities penetrated group chats on WhatsApp and Telegram, based on claims by activists that they faced repercussions for material they posted only via those apps. It is unclear how authorities could have gained access to these closed chats, but it is generally understood that either there are informants in critical groups, or that police seize and access the phones of detained activists.26

In November 2020, the NSC adopted the Rules of Operation of the National Video-Monitoring System.27 The system contains hardware and software for collection, processing, and storage of video files for the purpose of national security and public order. The NSC determines if an individual or entity is obliged to connect to the system, defining them as “clients,” and outlines the costs for the installation and service of the equipment.

In June 2020, Toqaev signed the law on digital technologies, which designated the Information Security Committee at the MDDIAI as the body responsible for the protection of personal data. The law also provided for creation of the national video-monitoring system, which lacks precise regulation and public oversight, and biometric authentication of citizens with no guarantee of data protection.28

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2.002 6.006

Telecommunications companies have implemented SORM technical regulations (see C5), effectively granting the Kazakhstani government real-time access to their subscribers’ data.

The process that governs the authorities’ ability to request user data from various companies is not always followed. Security agencies can effectively access user data stored by the companies at will, as firms that wish to operate in the country have no means of resisting their demands. In its “exit report” upon leaving the Kazakhstani market, Tele2, the Swedish mobile service provider whose stake in Tele2-Altel was bought by Kazakhtelecom in 2019, noted that “it was not possible for Tele2 KZ to know how often the SORM system was used and whether the required warrant had been obtained.”1

Legislation obliges both fixed-line ISPs and mobile service providers to retain records of users’ online activities, phone numbers, billing details, internet protocol (IP) addresses, browsing history, protocols of data transmission, and other data.2 Providers must store user data for two years and grant access within 24 hours to “operative-investigatory bodies,” including the NSC and other security agencies, when approved by a prosecutor or “by coordination with the Prosecutor General’s Office.”3 The code of administrative offenses imposes fines on ISPs for failure to store user data.4 Tele2’s exit report revealed that it was not allowed to publish the nature and number of the requests it received from law enforcement.5

Domain names using the .kz and .KA3 country codes must operate on domestic servers.6 According to Kazakhstani communications law, users’ personal data must be stored within Kazakhstani borders.7 In late 2017, the government announced that it planned to negotiate with foreign social media platforms and persuade them to operate local servers that could provide easier state access to citizens’ personal data.8 In September 2020, the government amended domain registration rules, enabling the government to suspend a domain name if the website is physically hosted outside of Kazakhstan or if any of its software is hosted outside of the country (see B3).9

In April 2021, the government adopted the Rules on Examination of Processes Related to Personal Data, which allows the STS to access the hardware and software (“objects of informatization”) of “electronic information resources” to assess their “personal data management.”10 Also, according to the administrative code, operators are subject to fines for failure to distribute the National Security Certificate among clients, store personal information of users, or grant law enforcement bodies or special services access to data or equipment (see A3, B1, and C5).11

Domestic website owners are required to retain commentators’ data for at least three months and provide the government with this information upon request.12

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 2.002 5.005

The coverage period was marked by a significant increase in the number of cases of violence and intimidation against journalists.

A seemingly coordinated spate of attacks against journalists and media outlets began in October 2022, ahead of the snap presidential election in November, and continued into early 2023, in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections. In October, the Orda.kz editorial office received a severed head of a pig.1 Glass doors and windows at the office of Elmedia, an independent news site, were broken six times between October 2022 and January 2023.2 In January and February 2023, cars belonging to independent journalist Dinara Egeubaeva3 and journalist Vadim Boreyko’s4 cameraman were set on fire. Boreyko also reported in January that his apartment’s entrance door was blocked and torched.5 In February 2023, independent journalist Daniyar Moldabekov reported that he was punched in the face at his front door and instructed to “behave” by an unknown person wearing a medical mask.6

In February 2023, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the NSC announced the arrest of a foreign national, who they called a “coordinator” of the attacks against journalists and a “qualified hacker.” The equipment seized from this man reportedly provided evidence of the network of attackers and payment information. Later, in March 2023, four more foreigners were named as his accomplices,7 and seven more suspects in the case were arrested.8 According to the press release, the attacks were intended to imitate “government-inspired persecution of journalists,” and discredit “the president and his democratic reforms.”9 Prior to the arrest of the foreign national, 18 people were detained for crimes against journalists and bloggers between September 2022 and February 2023.10 Police deemed some of the acts, including the broken glass in the Elmedia office, to be minor hooliganism.11

These acts cast a chilling effect on independent journalism, and were widely condemned by both the Kazakhstani media community and international organizations, including Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The spokesperson for the MISD commented that “attacks on journalists are attacks on the society and state,”12 and President Toqaev repeatedly urged law enforcement to investigate the cases, find the perpetrators, and protect journalists.13

In July 2022, Olesya Vertinskaya, a journalist for independent news site Dorozhniy Kontrol (Road Control), which reports on police and traffic officers, was attacked outside of her home. She had received threatening text messages about her stories on a local fish company prior to the attack.14

During the protests and ensuing violence in January 2022, the authorities raided journalists’ homes and seized their phones.15 Leonid Rasskazov, a journalist working with online news outlet Orda.kz, was shot with a rubber bullet while covering the protests.16

Members of the LGBT+ community in Kazakhstan sporadically face online harassment and tend to exercise self-censorship.17

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 0.000 3.003

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because online media outlets and government institutions faced severe cyberattacks during the coverage period.

There were several major technical attacks against independent media during the coverage period. Government websites and the Kazakhstani sector of internet in general also faced a multitude of significant cyberattacks from “foreign actors.”

In July 2022, critical news sites Orda.kz1 and UlysMedia2 reportedly experienced a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Orda.kz claimed it had been attacked three times in the six months leading up to July 2022. In September 2022, Toppress.kz, Sn.kz, and NewTimes.kz also reported that they had faced DDoS attacks. 3 Kazakhtelecom confirmed that the attacks originated from abroad.4 According to Toppress.kz, they faced the problems after publishing material about a United Nations (UN) report on war crimes committed by the Russian military in Ukraine.5 UlysMedia6 and KazTAG,7 another critical outlet, were also targeted by DDoS attacks in October 2022. In January 2023, UlysMedia reported that its website was hacked and defaced. The attackers also published personal data, identification documents, and family photographs belonging to Samal Ibraeva, the outlet’s editor in chief.8 In March 2023, Factcheck.kz reported a DDoS attack.9

In September 2022, the STS reported large-scale, coordinated10 cyberattacks, allegedly originating from abroad, on the Kazakhstani segment of the internet, which caused serious congestion of the backbone networks.11 The STS later stated that nearly 20 million cyberattacks were repelled, claiming the attackers may have intended to disrupt the internet in Kazakhstan ahead of the November 2022 presidential elections.12 President Toqaev claimed that these cybersecurity threats were an attempt to “sow chaos and hinder positive reforms.”13 Some experts noted that the cyberattacks coincided with military mobilization in Russia and the mass exodus of military-age men from Russia; others believed the attacks were echoes of international hacker attacks against Russia.14

In March 2023, the STS reported a cybersecurity incident in which a foreign hacker group allegedly stole files from state bodies and organizations and compromised the bodies’ hardware and software.15

On Kazakhstan

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    23 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    34 100 not free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Not Free
  • Networks Restricted

  • Websites Blocked

  • Pro-government Commentators

  • Users Arrested