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Parliament adopts bill curbing online expression

Kazakhstan's parliament has passed amendments to its communications law that would make it possible for bloggers to be jailed for their work and online media to be shuttered, report Adil Soz, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other concerned organisations.

One of the amendments to the Communication Law, adopted by parliament on 24 June, involves considering all informational websites as mass media, including blogs and chats, thus subjecting the sites to being blocked if deemed in violation of Kazakh law.

Publishing information from the foreign media on Kazakh websites will also be prohibited if it violates Kazakh media law. Website owners can also face criminal prosecution: in Kazakhstan, press offences are still punishable by imprisonment.

"The exceedingly general nature of these new grounds, combined with the severe maximum penalties for media violating them - suspension or even closure - would in practice allow for baseless repression of Internet media," said Adil Soz.

The legislation is now under the consideration of the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has the power to refuse to promulgate the law.

On 26 June, 12 Kazakh free expression NGOs and mass media groups, including Adil Soz, sent an appeal to Nazarbayev, pointing out that the contributions of NGOs and media groups in preparation of draft of amendments were "totally overlooked."

In February the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) had provided the authorities with a legal review on how the draft could comply with media freedom requirements, but like recommendations submitted to the Senate by Kazakh free expression NGOs, it was not considered.

Kazakhstan is due to take over as OSCE chair in 2010. "Refusing to enact this law will send a strong signal that the forthcoming OSCE Chairmanship of Kazakhstan in 2010 intends to fully honour the country's OSCE media freedom commitments," OCSE said in a letter to the President.

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