125 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 2,717,000 sq. km.
Language: Kazakh, Russian
Head of state: Nursultan Nazarbayev, since 1991
Central Asia’s largest country is due to take over the presidency of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010. It responded to criticism from international organisations by promising to bring its legislation on the press in line with international standards, but no noticeable changes have taken place.
Publications that criticise the government can face serious reprisals, with the likelihood of charges of "insult" of "defamation", often incurring fines that can force them into closure. This is what happened to the weekly Tasjargan in March 2009 after a parliamentary deputy Ramin Madinov claimed he had been libelled in an article headlined, "The poor landowner", that appeared in April 2008. He demanded an apology and the equivalent of about 1.6 million euros in damages. The court sentenced the weekly to pay a fine of 160,000 euros, putting its survival in threat and condemning its editor to several years unemployment. Ramazan Eserguepov, editor of the weekly Alma Ata Info also paid a high price for an article published in November 2008 that revealed the hold security services (KNB) have over the country’s political life. In the first move against him, his home and the newspaper offices were searched and after a 16-hour operation, computers and mobile phones belonging to editorial staff were seized. The search was aimed at finding internal KNB documents on which the incriminating article was based. Eserguepov was summoned by the KNB in December in a bid to make him reveal his sources. He suffered mistreatment and an abduction attempt before taking refuge for 24 hours at the US Consulate. After spending several weeks in hospital, the journalist was arrested in January and taken to the regional KNB headquarters.
The English and Kazakh language websites of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were blocked for seven weeks in April and June 2008, by one of the country’s two main Internet service providers. The radio also came under a cyber attack in April. One of its journalists, Ermek Boltay was beaten unconscious outside his home in Almaty on 18 January 2009. Other websites critical of the president have been prevented from working normally. Independent radio Inkar was targeted in this way as was the blog platform JivoiJournal one of the most popular in Asia. Former son-in-law of the president and ex-ambassador to Austria, Rakhat Aliyev, had his blog hosted on this platform, on which he posted embarrassing revelations about people in power. The country’s two main service providers, Nursat and KazTelecom, in October blocked access to the platform site without explanation. This had unfortunate consequences for neighbour Kyrgyzstan which relies on the Kazakh network for its Internet services.