ANALYSIS-Internet shutdown in Kazakhstan leaves millions in the dark amid unrest

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* Shutdown short in sixth day after violent uprising * Blackouts hamper access to basic services, news updates

* Digital rights groups urge government to restore connectivity By Umberto Bacchi

Jan. 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The state-imposed internet shutdown in Kazakhstan entered a sixth day on Monday, leaving millions of people struggling to access basic services and information on the anti-government protests that rocked the country, digital rights groups have said. Connectivity was restored across the country for a few hours on Monday, according to the NetBlocks Internet blocking observatory, before being cut shortly after in the Central Asian country following the wave of unrest. last week.

“Earlier today, some users briefly logged in for the first time in five days,” the group said on Twitter. The streets of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, returned to normal on Monday after the worst violence in three decades of post-Soviet independence, with thousands arrested and some public buildings set on fire.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said his country had resisted a coup attempt. Authorities shut down internet access completely on Wednesday last week, NetBlocks said, as protests against rising fuel prices on New Year’s Day spilled over into nationwide protests against the government and the former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81 years old.

Aisha, a resident of the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan who asked not to give her real name, said she was working in her office when the shutdown went into effect, leaving her with no source of information on the developments in the country. “My TV doesn’t work without the Internet, and there was no information on the radio, only entertainment programs,” she said by email.

CASH ONLY Authorities began blocking the internet in parts of the country and limiting access to social media platforms days earlier as protests erupted in the western town of Zhanaozen, digital rights group Access Now said. .

Switzerland-based internet company Proton said at the start of the protests it saw a 1,000% increase in signups for its virtual private networks (VPN) service from the country as people tried to connect. But this way of getting around blackouts stopped on January 5, as internet access was cut across the country.

“VPNs can be useful in bypassing targeted blocks… But if the whole Internet is down, the situation is different,” said Proton spokesperson Edward Shone. “If you can’t sign in, you can’t sign in. The shutdown was the most serious on record in the country, said Callum Voge, head of European government affairs and advocacy at the Internet Society, a US-based non-profit organization.

Connectivity has been partially restored intermittently for a few hours a day, but not everywhere, NetBlocks said. People struggled to buy food as card terminals and ATMs crashed, leaving those without money struggling, Aisha said.

It was also difficult to get in touch with relatives and friends, as many people could not charge their phones and mobile communication was intermittent as well, she added. Voge, who lives in Prague, said his partner, who is from Kazakhstan, was unable to reach family members in the country and ensure they were safe for three days.

Dozens of people have reportedly been killed in clashes between security forces and protesters in cities across the country. BAD FOR BUSINESS

The Internet blackout also had unintended consequences. The bitcoin network’s global computing power fell sharply last week as servers in Kazakhstan, the world’s second-largest bitcoin mining center, were likely taken offline.

But from stock trading to food delivery orders, many other business activities shut down without an internet connection, Voge said. “The shutdowns reduce confidence in the network,” he said.

“So, for businesses in Kazakhstan, there might be a potential reluctance in the future to use the Internet for their business… And this is also true for international business partners who might want to invest in the country. On Monday, a global coalition of human rights groups called for the complete restoration of Internet access across the country “without exception.”

“Internet shutdowns do not create safer environments,” read a statement from Access Now, one of the coalition members. “But (they) provide cover for state and non-state actors to avoid brutality against people while making it extremely difficult for journalists and human rights defenders to closely monitor developments during crises.”

The office of the President of Kazakhstan did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Announcing that internet access would be partially restored, Tokayev said in a speech on Friday that the shutdowns were a response to “self-proclaimed activists” who believe they have “the right to assemble where they want and say what they want” .

“Free internet access does not mean free publication of fabrications, slanders, insults and inflammatory appeals,” he said, according to a statement posted on the presidential website. On Monday there were signs of a return to normal, including several hours of internet access in Almaty for the first time in days.

At Nur-Sultan, Aisha said she was able to connect without a hitch during the day – a welcome improvement after days of brief periods of connectivity that had made it difficult. “There is a certain confidence in knowing that you – and not someone else – are responsible for your time,” she said. Hours later, her phone fell silent again as NetBlocks reported that the country was once again “in the midst of a near-total Internet blackout.”

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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