Сөз бостандығын қорғау халықаралық қоры
Международный фонд защиты свободы слова
The International Foundation for Freedom of Speech Protection

Violations of freedom of speech in Kazakhstan December 2023

11 march 2024

The International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech «Adil Soz» presents an overview of events reflecting the situation in Kazakhstan with freedom of expression, receipt, and dissemination of information in November 2023.

In December 2023, there was a sharp increase in cyberattacks on the social media accounts of journalists and media outlets, as well as DDoS attacks on internet-based media – three times higher compared to previous months (21 incidents reported in December 2023).

While in October 2022, journalists and media outlets mainly reported DDoS attacks on their websites, and in April of this year, journalists and bloggers reported attacks on their social media accounts, December saw a new trend. Three media outlets' websites were hit by massive DDoS attacks, accounts of three media outlets on social media were blocked due to mass complaints to the platform's administration, accounts of three journalists and a lawyer on social media were hacked, and the official account of Organization X was also hacked, as reported by the UNDP.
Earlier, the «Adil Soz» Foundation, recognizing the seriousness of the threat not only to journalists but also to society as a whole, called on the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan, the General Prosecutor's Office of Kazakhstan, the National Security Committee, and the Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry of Kazakhstan to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of journalists and protect their rights to freedom of speech and investigate cyberattack incidents to identify those responsible.
On December 21, journalists, IT specialists, representatives from government agencies, and non-governmental organizations gathered at the Kursiv Media editorial office to discuss ways and methods to defend against cyberattacks. The Kursiv Media website has been under DDoS attacks since December 6th.
The editorial team reported that the attacks are originating from various IP addresses located in Mexico, Germany, Russia, Finland, and other countries. The total number of requests exceeded 2 billion, with peak attacks occurring on December 6, 14, 17, and 19.
During the meeting, Ali Nurseyitov, the head of the Department for Critical Information and Communication Infrastructure (CICI) at the Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry, noted that there are 20 accredited cybersecurity centers in the country where media outlets can seek assistance.
In turn, Shavkat Sabirov, the president of the «Internet Association of Kazakhstan», suggested obligating Kazakhstani providers or data centers to implement appropriate protection against DDoS attacks for their clients. This protection would detect abnormal surges, block them, and notify the resource owners.
Madina Alimkhanova, the executive director of the «Adil Soz» Foundation, and representatives from the media urged to consider cyberattacks on media outlets as a dangerous attempt to restrict citizens' right to access information. They agreed to take joint concrete measures to address this issue.

Also in December: 



President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has signed a law «On Amendments and Additions to Certain Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Information Security, Informatization, and Digital Assets». This law introduces the definition of personal data security breaches and prohibits the collection and processing of copies of identity documents on paper, except in certain cases. State control over compliance with personal data legislation will be carried out by the Information Security Committee of the Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry. Owners and operators of databases containing personal data are required to report data security breaches. The text of the law was published in the «Kazakhstanskaya Pravda» on December 12, 2023, and will enter into force after 60 calendar days, except for some changes introduced from July 1, 2024.
Work on the draft law «On Mass Media» continues in the Mazhilis (lower house) of the parliament. At a press conference at the» Central Communications Service, Minister of Culture and Information, Aida Balaeva announced that criteria for issuing press cards no longer include requirements for a certain length of service as a journalist or specialized higher education.
«However, it is too early to say in what form the simplification of accreditation will be implemented. This will be determined during the upcoming meeting of the working group», the minister said.


- On December 4, the Specialized Inter-District Criminal Court of Almaty found journalists Nargiz and Vladimir Severny guilty under Article 194 of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan (Extortion). The court sentenced Vladimir Severny to 7 years of imprisonment to be served in a medium-security facility, and Nargiz Severnaya to 8 years of imprisonment with a 5-year suspension of the sentence, as she has a minor child under her care. The time spent in detention since April 2023 was counted as part of the sentence, with one and a half days credited for each day served.
According to the prosecution, the spouses extorted 15 million tenge from a businesswoman from Aktau in April of this year and 200 thousand tenge from a businessman in Almaty in June 2019 in exchange for refraining from publishing negative materials. Nargiz Severnaya was found guilty in both cases, while Vladimir Severny was acquitted in the case involving the businessman.
The journalists and their lawyers disagree with the verdict and intend to appeal. Nargiz Severnaya's lawyer asserts that all doubts about guilt should be interpreted in favor of the accused in accordance with the Constitution of Kazakhstan. An examination of the transcripts of the audio recordings showed that Nargiz Severnaya merely expressed encouragement rather than a demand for money and did not make any threats against the victims.

- The case regarding the lawsuit for the protection of honor, dignity, and business reputation of the Deputy Head of the Department of Natural Resources and Regulation of Natural Resource Use in the West Kazakhstan Region, Bisengali Khairullin, against the editorial board of the «Uralskaya Nedelya» newspaper and journalist Lyudmila Kalashnikova has concluded peacefully. Representing the interests of the newspaper in court was the lawyer from the «Adil Soz» Foundation, Sergey Utkin.
The plaintiff contested a fragment of an article from August 16, 2023. He claimed that the journalist distorted his words by stating that he intended to prohibit career development in the territory of the state forest fund Bisengali Khairullin believes that these statements tarnish his honor, dignity, and business reputation as a civil servant, particularly in the eyes of companies developing forest areas, portraying him as «authoritarian and power-hungry, ignoring legal norms and pursuing the sole aim of banning the activities of these companies by any means».
During the court proceedings, the parties reached a mediated agreement, which satisfied both the plaintiff and the defendants. Bisengali Khairullin withdrew all his claims, while the defendants agreed to publish a message within 10 working days after the court's decision comes into legal force, clarifying the incorrect presentation of the information, which led to its misunderstanding. The editorial board is required to explain that the civil servant spoke «solely about the lawful measures that will be taken by his department, and the final decision will be made by the court».

- Sabyr Makazhanov, chief editor of the Pravo.kz online edition, was denied cassation review of the judicial acts issued on the claim to protect the honour, dignity and business reputation of L. Beisekulova, chair of the Ethics Council of the of the Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan for Civil Service Affairs in the Almaty Region.
The plaintiff demanded the publication of a refutation and compensation for moral damages in the amount of 1 million tenge from the public figure Lyubov Garkusha and the chief editor of Pravo.kz, Sabyr Makazhanov. The basis for the lawsuit was the complaints made by L. Garkusha to state authorities, where she alleged the illegal acquisition of an apartment by Lyazzat Beisenkulova from the state housing fund, and the publications by Makazhanov in which he raised questions about the legality of Beisekulova's housing acquisition.
Sabyr Makazhanov asserts that the editorial team relied solely on the presentation of the Taldykorgan Prosecutor's Office when writing the articles.
On November 16, 2022, the Taldykorgan City Court recognized the disputed segments of the texts as not corresponding to reality and defaming the honor and dignity of the plaintiff. After the court decision entered into force, the defendants are obligated to refute them on social media and jointly compensate Beisekulova for moral damages in the amount of 100,000 tenge. The court decision became legally binding on March 29, 2023.

The court in Shymkent has begun considering the appeal complaint filed by police officer Y. Abdramanov against the ruling of innocence of journalist Marina Nizovkina in the defamation case.
The initiator of the proceedings is the deputy chief of the Shymkent Police Department, Yermakhan Abdramanov. He believes that the journalist spread knowingly false information on her personal Instagram page in two posts - on July 13, stating that his official vehicle was stopped on suspicion of using fake state license plates, and on September 11, in which Nizovkina questions the selective enforcement of orders by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, citing the dismissal of one police department head for the wrongdoing of his subordinate while another was not.
On November 10, the first-instance court terminated the administrative proceedings and acquitted the journalist of defamation due to the absence of elements of an administrative offence in her actions.
The police officer disagreed with the court ruling and appealed it to a higher court.

In December 2023, a total of 37 reports of incidents related to the professional activities of the media and journalists, the receipt and dissemination of information were registered (excluding reports related to ongoing cases):
- 5 reports were related to violations of journalists' rights.
-28 reports concerned the right to access and disseminate information.
-4  cases of presentation of judicial and pre-trial claims to journalists and editorial offices in connection with publications.

In December 2023, in connection with the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, the following have been filed:
- 3 pre-judicial claims and civil lawsuits. All of them relate to the protection of honor, dignity, and business reputation.
- 1 non-judicial warning for violating criminal legislation.

Since the beginning of the year, in connection with the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, the following have been filed:
- 12 criminal charges (including 3 in court). 
- 61 civil claims and lawsuits (including 51 for the protection of honor, dignity, and business reputation). The claimed amounts of compensation for moral damage in cases of honor and dignity protection amount to 39,400,000 tenge. The courts recovered 550,000 tenge.
- 24 administrative charges, including 12 for defamation and 2 for spreading fake information (Article 456-2 of the Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Administrative Offences). 



The monitoring was prepared according to reports to correspondents of the «Adil Soz» Foundation and information from open sources.
Head of the Monitoring Service of the «Adil Soz» Foundation - Elena Tsoy
Email: lena@adilsoz.kz
For all monitoring-related inquiries, you can also contact: info@adilsoz.kz 


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