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RFE/RL Blocked In Kazakhstan After Reporting On Kazakh IS Video

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FE/RL's Kazakh Service has been blocked in Kazakhstan after reporting on a video showing Kazakh militants calling for others to join the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

Radio Azattyq said on March 5 that the "Latest News" sections of both its Kazakh- and Russian-language sites were blocked on March 4 soon after the report on the video was published.

While previous reports by Radio Azattyq on Kazakh militants in Syria have also been blocked in Kazakhstan, the service said that this is the first time that the entire "Latest News" sections of both the Kazakh Service's websites have been taken offline.

Radio Azattyq's report examines a video that shows militants from a Kazakh jamaat, or fighting faction, within the IS group. One of the militants, who is identified as Abu Muaz, calls on Kazakhs to join them and come to Syria to fight.

A version of the video with Russian subtitles appeared in August 2014 on the IS group's official Russian-language propaganda site, H-Center. The video was removed from YouTube very shortly after it was published, but a version of it has recently been re-uploaded and shared on social networks.

Radio Azattyq translated some of the video from Kazakh and reported that Abu Muaz criticized religious scholars in Kazakhstan for "poisoning" religion. "A lot of people come to us in Syria with their entire families and replenish our ranks," Abu Muaz says.

Abu Muaz's fluent Kazakh suggests that he is a native of Kazakhstan, Radio Azattyq said.

However, Radio Azattyq reported that the report had been blocked in Almaty and Astana on March 4, and that Kazakhtelecom, the largest Internet service provider in Kazakhstan, refused to comment.

Kazakh Authorities In Denial

This is not the first time that Kazakhstan has moved to block news sites from reporting on videos of Kazakh IS militants in Syria.

In November, Kazakhstan banned an IS video that showed Kazakh nationals, including children, participating in military and ideological drills in Syria. 

The fallout from Kazakhstan's banning of the video even reached neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where news sites showing the video were also blocked. One site accused the government of punishing reporters over fears of a backlash from Kazakhstan over the IS video. 

Kazakhstan also tried to distance itself from reports that a Kazakh national had been killed by IS militants in Syria on suspicion of being a Russian spy. After a video showing a man identified as a Kazakh being apparently shot alongside another "spy," Kazakhstan's intelligence agency issued a statement denying that the victims were Kazakh nationals. 

However, the extensive blocking of Radio Azattyq's Russian and Kazakh sites suggests that the Kazakh authorities are beginning to crack down even harder on news outlets and journalists who report on Kazakh militants in Syria and Iraq.

The signs of the increased crackdown come amid ever-growing fears in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia about the threat posed by the IS group to domestic security, as well as a sense that Astana does not want to broadcast the fact that Kazakh nationals are present, or even prolific, in the militant group.

The blocking comes after reports that a Kazakh teenager, Akhror Saidakhmetov, has been arrested in the United States on suspicion of aiding the IS group. While the Kazakh Interior Ministry issued a statement saying it was willing to help the U.S. authorities investigate Saidakhmetov, officials also appeared to distance themselves from the case, saying that the teen had left Kazakhstan in 2011 and had not returned. 


March 5 2015, 17:34

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