Igor Sychev, a 26-year-old Kazakh blogger, was sentenced on November 18 by the Ridder City Court to 5 years imprisonment over raising the question of whether the eastern Kazakhstan region should secede and join Russia “the way Ukraine’s Crimea did” in an online poll. Sychev was accused of promoting “separatist sentiment”.
The poll was published on the popular Russian social networking site VKontakte, in an online forum administered by Sychev. The blogger pleaded not guilty and denied all the accusations against him:
“I was not the one to create the online poll, and after a claim I removed the poll… I had no thoughts or goals to propagate separatism in Kazakhstan”
Sychev is a resident of the northern town of Ridder, located in the eastern Kazakhstan province. The region shares a border with Russia and has a great majority of ethnic Russians. According to Eurasianet, Sychev claimed that his “illegal” trial had been conducted “for show”.
Sychev is the first person to be jailed in Kazakhstan under the new “separatism” clause that passed last year. Under the new amendment to the criminal code, calls for separatism constitute a criminal offence, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.
According to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net Report for the year 2015, Kazakhstan is listed as “Not Free”:
|Internet Penetration:||55 percent|
|Social Media/ICT Apps Blocked:||Yes|
|Political/Social Content Blocked:||Yes|
|Bloggers/ICT Users Arrested:||Yes|
|Press Freedom Status:||Not Free|
Kazakhstan still has no freedom of expression law, despite the constitution guaranteeing it. Journalists face libel and defamation suits, outright censorship and methods of intimidation by the government. Social media websites and apps are blocked, alongside some political and social content.
Freedom House further reports that internet service has been disconnected and mobile phone networks have been blocked by the government in February 2015 over ethnic clashes in South Kazakhstan. Foreign and domestic news outlets have been blocked for reporting about Kazakh nationals joining ISIS, while being accused of spreading “propaganda” against the state.
Online freedom has been severely restricted by a court decision in September 2014, prohibiting the use of tools allowing users to hide their IP against governmental surveillance. In January 2015, an amendment to the criminal code has gone into effect, aggravating the penalties for online content. This dangerous route, followed by imprisonment of bloggers and social media users, symbolises the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Kazakhstan.