Kyrgyzstan’s government has de facto blocked a popular and hard-hitting news website with the argument that reporting on terrorism is akin to supporting terrorists. Authorities seem to have pressured the website’s local host to disconnect its servers.
ProHost said on December 15 that it would immediately kick Kloop.kg off its servers following a request from the State Agency for Communications, Kloop co-founder Bektour Iskender informed readers through Facebook.
The block has been looming since November 24, when Kloop reposted a video from Britain’s Daily Mail featuring a propaganda video that showed Kazakh children allegedly training as jihadists in Syria. Officials in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan both insist Kloop has aided the terrorist Islamic State by republishing the video.
Kloop was swiftly blocked in Kazakhstan after refusing a written request from the Kazakh prosecutor’s office to remove the offending material; harassment from Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry quickly followed.
Kyrgyz authorities have stepped up pressure on the media in recent months. In October President Almazbek Atambayev broadly blamed journalists for sullying Kyrgyzstan’s reputation abroad.
Speaking to journalists about terrorism on December 4, one high-ranking Kyrgyz policeman said that he and his Kazakh counterparts had come to the conclusion that what Kloop had done was similar to helping a rapist who posts footage of himself with his victim online.
By December 10, the Prosecutor General had formally requested Internet service providers block the story. Kyrgyzstan’s Internet service providers – acting under the threat of fines – all complied. But several ISPs complained they could not block a single story. At least two blocked the website completely.
For now, without a host, Kloop is posting news on its Facebook page. Iskender has pledged to migrate the site’s content to a foreign server. “In such conditions we cannot continue to use local hosting services,” he wrote.
But a foreign host may give Kyrgyz powerbrokers extra ammunition in their efforts to silence Kloop. The foundation running the site receives international funding to train young journalists. Legislators are expected to vote as soon as this month on a sweeping, Russia-style, anti-civil society bill that would classify Kloop and a host of NGOs as “foreign agents.” The president has said he supports the bill, which activists say is a clear indication of Kyrgyzstan’s creeping return to authoritarianism, this time under Russia’s thumb.
The legal grounds for the de facto block are shaky. No law in Kyrgyzstan prohibits mass media from reporting on extremism. Plus, a court order is required to block a website, but no court has issued one in this case. Lenta.ru, a major Russian outlet, also republished the Daily Mail’s video. But Lenta is still accessible in Kyrgyzstan, as is the original Daily Mail article with the offending video.
UPDATE, December 17: Editors at Kloop are celebrating a small victory. The State Communications Agency has withdrawn its request to block the news site and admitted it does not have the right to block websites without a court order. Kloop.kg is again accessible, though the editors are planning to move their servers abroad.