By reporting on terrorist propaganda, is a journalist propagating terrorism? Journalists often debate how to cover terrorism without doing more harm than good. But prosecutors in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have a cut and dry answer.
Earlier this week, Kloop.kg – an innovative, independent news outlet in Kyrgyzstan – published a story about an Islamic State recruiting video that purports to show Kazakh-speaking children training for jihad in Syria and threatening to slaughter infidels. In its story, Kloop included stills the Daily Mail had reproduced and a link to video embedded in the Daily Mail's story. Few Kazakhstan-based news outlets covered the story, likely fearing Kazakhstan’s anti-extremism legislation.
Indeed, the day the story started circulating, November 24, Kazakhstan’s prosecutor warned media that Kazakhstani law forbids the “propaganda and justification” of terrorism.
The Kloop story was quickly blocked in Kazakhstan, as were several other stories about the video. (EurasiaNet.org’s story, although it did not include a link to the IS recruitment video, was also blocked in Kazakhstan.)
Editors at Kloop received an email from a Kazakhstani government agency calling itself the “Computer Emergency Response Team,” which demanded Kloop remove the material. Kloop, the email said, had violated not just Kazakhstani laws on the “justification of extremism and terrorism,” but international law, too.
Kloop’s editors published the email and their response, pointing out that they are neutral journalists covering an important story, that they do not see how they are violating international law, and that they are in fact based in Kyrgyzstan, beyond the reach of Kazakhstani law.
“In accord with journalistic norms, we consider information about the activities of the Islamic State and other recognized terrorist organizations as important to the public. We believe that providing information is one of the most effective ways to combat any negative phenomenon, thanks to the public outcry it causes,” Kloop’s editors wrote. “If the Kazakhstani authorities want to solve the problem of the involvement of children in jihadism, the media space is the last place to look for the cause of [this] evil.”
Now the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry has threatened to prosecute media that disseminate the video for violating Article 226-3 of Kyrgyzstan’s Criminal Code, making public calls for terrorism or publicly justifying terrorism. The crime carries up to five years in prison.
In response, Kloop editor Bektour Iskender wrote on Facebook that the Interior Ministry’s statement “shows their impotence in the fight against terrorism, if the only way of reacting to the information that has appeared is to deal with the media.” Iskender also criticized Kyrgyz authorities for bending to pressure from Kazakhstan.
But with Kyrgyzstan’s government steadily chipping away at the rights of journalists and activists, this latest warning is the kind that will make any journalist’s ears prick up. Self-censorship in Central Asia is already one of the greatest threats to the region’s beleaguered press.
Of course none of this will make the Islamic State go away. Nor does it confront the reasons why hundreds of Central Asians have chosen to travel to the Middle East and pick up arms.