NGO Access Now Thursday released a statement signed by dozens of NGOs calling on Kazak authorities and telecommunications providers to ensure internet access across the nation.
Access Now accused the government of “toying” with internet access to dampen protests and provide “cover for escalating violence.” According to Access Now, the NGO defends rights for digital “users at risk around the world” through advocacy, grants, policy guidance, and legal action.
The BBC reports that protests started in the Kazak town of Zhanaozen on January 2, 2022, after the government removed a price cap on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). As a result, the price of LPG nearly doubled. The resulting protests and military response resulted in at least 225 deaths, Kazak authorities told Al Jazeera.
On January 7, 2022, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev addressed the nation. In his speech, Tokayev called protesters terrorists and gave orders to police and the military to “open fire without warning” when necessary. Tokayev referenced online activity, saying, “Democracy does not mean permissiveness nor, moreover, incitement, including in the blogosphere, to illegal actions.” The president specifically blamed activists for internet outages and chastised protesters who “put themselves above the law and believe that they have the right to gather where they want and say what they want.”
Access Now reported the longest shutdown lasted from January 5 to January 10, 2022 and was implemented by telecom companies Kazakhtelecom, Kcell, Beeline Kazakhstan, and Tele2/Altel Kazakhstan. During the five-day shutdown, the entire nation lacked internet access except for sporadic restorations.
In an open letter to Tokayev, Access Now requested that Tokayev “publicly pledge [his] support to maintaining free, open, and secure internet access in Kazakhstan, and immediately stop issuing and withdraw, any and all orders to shut down the internet.”