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Content note: The following post contains references to violence and death.
Update: January 17, 2022 — The internet has now been restored across Kazakhstan, and with it, revelations of the extent of the government’s crackdown on civil unrest has been exposed. As of today, at least 225 people have been reported killed in clashes with state security forces, more than 4,500 have been injured, and approximately 12,000 have been arrested since January 2.
January 10, 2022: The government of Kazakhstan has no right to implement ongoing, arbitrary internet shutdowns and blockings as part of its intensifying campaign of state violence against the population. Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition are calling for open, accessible internet across the country, and a commitment from authorities to ensure it is upheld moving forward — including during protests and times of unrest.
“By manipulating internet access — shutting it off one day, allowing limited access the next — the government of Kazakhstan is exerting its authority over the country,” said Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Eastern Europe & Central Asia Regional Outreach Coordinator at Access Now. “That’s not how things are allowed to work. Governments should empower people through access to information and communication, not threaten to ‘shoot to kill,’ then disconnect a population exercising its right to protest.”
On January 2, 2022, as people protested the government’s changes to liquefied petroleum gas price caps in the city of Zhanaozen, individuals began reporting difficulty in accessing the internet. Since then, government-mandated internet blockings and shutdowns have been imposed in other regions, and range from targeted attacks on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal, to complete nation-wide internet shutdowns of varying time frames in different regions on January 4, 5, 6, and 7. Reports indicate that the internet is accessible today, Monday, January 10.
“This is an immediate call for action,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “The government of Kazakhstan must reconnect the nation to the internet with no exception, and commit to #KeepItOn in the future — especially when the population is saying things the government may not want to hear.”
Internet shutdowns do not create safer environments, but provide a cover for state and non-state actors to get away with brutalities perpetrated against people, while making it extremely difficult for journalists and human rights defenders to closely monitor developments during crises.
Nearly 8,000 people have been detained by police during the recent protests, leaving many others unsure about the location and welfare of their close ones. As state violence, and the threat of violence, continues to escalate in Kazakhstan, it is vital people have the ability to access information and communicate with each other.