Special Report
“Qazaqstan Shutdown 2022”
Internet Shutdown
Internet Shutdown
Article author
Yelzhan Kabyshev
Digital Paradigm Public Foundation
It is noteworthy that access to mobile Internet prevails in Kazakhstan.
130%
cellular communications
penetration rate exceeds in the country According to Halyk Global Markets
the ‘number of mobile broadband subscribers’ equaled 14.9 million at the end of 2019
2
To date, two mobile operators in the country:
Beeline and Kazakhtelecom Corporate Group, presented by Kcell and Tele2/Altel.
Access to messenger platforms WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal was restricted from January 4 throughout Kazakhstan, followed by the total blocking of web resources on the next day.
On January 5th, Kazakhtelecom and Beeline shut down access of their users to both to mobile and wired Internet. Since Internet in Kazakhstan is centralized, meaning that any international traffic goes only through the networks of international telecommunications operators, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the population of the entire country was cut off from web resources.
The access to Internet was restored on the night of January 6th, but it didn’t last for long. News on Internet blocking in Kazakhstan was published in Telegram channels by GlobalCheck and NetBlocks.
On the same day Beeline announced that Internet restrictions had been out of the company’s control. Kcell stated that ‘According to clauses 1-2 of article 41-1 of “On Communications”Law, competent authorities of the Republic of Kazakhstan have been taking steps to suspend network activities and provision of communications services for the benefit of anti-terroristic operations and establishment of public safety. No information available on when the issue will be settled’.
According to clause 3 of article 41-1 of the Law “On Communications”, communications operators and (or) State Technical Service JSC (STS) must follow the order of the governmental authority (National Security Committee), which decided to suspend communications, within the maximum of two hours.
Pursuant to article 9.2 of the Law, STS has a governmental monopoly in the field of information security and performs such functions as providing technical support to the system of centralized management of telecommunications networks, arranging organization and maintenance of Internet exchange points of operators, and keeping track of international junction points.
Internet shutdown restricted a whole host of human rights, including, inter alia, freedom of opinion and expression, and right to participate in public affairs, and also influenced economic and social rights, in particular diminishing rights of people with disabilities, as well as the right to a fair trial in courts (since due to quarantine restrictions most cases are considered online via messengers), and other rights.
Matters of restricting human rights are covered by the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogations Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Kazakhstan, being a member country to the Covenant, must adhere to those principles. The Siracusa Principles provide detailed instructions of when such restrictions are allowable (see more in clauses iv, v, vi, vii).
Report A/HRC/17/27 of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, dated May 16, 2011, indicates that ‘unlike any other medium of communication, such as radio, television and printed publications based on one-way transmission of information, the Internet represents a significant leap forward as an interactive medium’ and that ‘individuals are no longer passive recipients, but also active publishers of information’.
In clause 59 the Special Rapporteur notes that the right to privacy can be subject to restrictions or limitations under certain exceptional circumstances. This may include State surveillance measures for the purposes of administration of criminal justice, prevention of crime or combating terrorism. However, such interference is permissible only if the criteria for permissible limitations under international human rights law are met.
Let us note that internet shutdown may be contradicting to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and specifically to Goal 9: “Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”. In light of the decision of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, taken on January 5, 2022, to establish a state of emergency (SoE), first in Mangistau oblast and Almaty, and later in other regions of the country, Kazakhstan, as the ICCPR member, taking into consideration the said Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogations Provisions in the Covenant to avoid human rights violation, had to take the following actions:
  • Make an official announcement of imposing a state of emergency, which threatens the life of the nation;

  • Notify member states through the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN).
Though the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan made an official announcement on imposing a state of emergency, publicly available sources do not inform if the respective notice was sent to the member states. It is only known that on the 6th of January the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) notified the UN on bringing military forces to Kazakhstan.
Imposition of a state of emergency in Kazakhstan is regulated by the Special “On State of Emergency” Law. “A state of emergency is a temporary measure, applied only to ensure the safety of citizens and protection of the constitutional order of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and represents a special legal regime of state bodies and organizations, that allows establishing certain restrictions on the rights and freedoms of citizens, foreigners, and stateless persons, as well as the rights of legal entities, and imposing additional responsibilities on them” (clause 1 of article 15 of the Law “On State of Emergency”).
Pursuant to that law, if a state of emergency is imposed, the government, which applies restrictions in respect of such human rights as freedom of movement, peaceful meetings, and others, may suspend access of natural persons and legal entities to internet and connection services as one of the basic restrictive measures (article 14-1 and subclause 10 of clause 1 of article 15 of the Law). Indeed, internet access was restricted within the territory of Kazakhstan during the currently discussed events, and yet calls and SMS-exchange were available, through with certain interruptions. At the same time, most of callers from abroad could not reach out to addressees in Kazakhstan.
Residents of Almaty stayed in the longest information vacuum caused by several days of the total web blocking in the city. Connection to internet through bypassing solutions, such as VPN, proxy-servers and TOR, was also unavailable.
$429million
the damage inflicted to the economy of Kazakhstan by the internet shutdown According to Top10VPN
by 3405%
the demand on VPN-services in Kazakhstan as of January 5th, when the protests had uprisen, increased compared to the average level for the previous 30 days
On January 7th, the President addressed the people of Kazakhstan and announced as follows:
It should be mentioned that according to clauses 1-3 of article 41-1 of “On Communications” Law, operation of bypassing communications means, which can help in getting access to prohibited contents, is not allowable. In fact, those software products include all foreign VPN-services as their server equipment, proxy servers and suchlike, are located abroad. In case of the use of such program software is spreading, the resource must be restricted.
Speaking of the information vacuum, there was a remarkable case of one Kazakhstani citizen, Narikbi Maksut, who together with his associates, managed to pass proxy server data to persons located in Kazakhstan by text messages. As he says, blocking of the internet was not total, there were a certain port that had not been shut to external web resources (for more details about the types of websites access restrictions and the impact on human rights, please follow the link (https://www.soros.kz/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/KABYSHEV.pdf)).
By pressing the proxy server data contained in such SMS, a user automatically received access to the Telegram messenger with the pre-filled IP-address, port, login, password, etc. Further on, Telegram automatically transmitted and received traffic through the proxy server provided by Narikbi Maksut. Thanks to Telegram, Kazakhstani people were given an access to alternative sources of information, and could also connect with their family, friends, and colleagues, both in Kazakhstan and abroad, learn about what was happening in the country and their home city, as well as read information publications of international organizations and foreign states on the situation in Kazakhstan.
Internet shutdown affected not only Kazakhstani users, but the global network as well, since websites with .kz and .каз domains were almost totally inaccessible to the rest of the world. This was explained by Order No. 38/NK of the Minister of Defense and Aerospace Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Approval of the Rules for Registration, Use, and Allotment of Domain Space in the Kazakhstan Segment of the Internet” as of March 13, 2018. According to these Rules, when using a Kazakhstani domain, the server must be located within the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Non-adherence to this requirement means violation of the Rules and, consequently, the use of the domain is suspended.
Since neither population, nor business could use the internet, the question of purchasing and selling necessary commodities became quite challenging as all transactions could be performed only by cash. Having been cut from the access to information systems, businesses could not issue required documents to support their sales. In parallel, people faced a problem of retrieving money from their bank cards, which led to the shortage of cash funds.
On January 6th, when no communications worked, the State Income Committee of the Ministry of Finances (SIC of the MoF) granted a permission to give sale receipts instead of fiscal ones, and also announced the right to issue tax invoices on paper, confirming that no punitive penalties would be imposed. To legalize such transfer to hard copies, the SIC of the MoF, being guided by subclause 2 of clause 2 of article 412 of the Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Taxes and Other Obligatory Payments to the Budget” (the Tax Code) dated December 25, 2017, signed a protocol on recognizing the technical error to cover the period from January 5 to January 19, 2022.
● Almaty, alone, was attacked by 20 000 bandits;
● Attacks were supported by professionals who specialize in spreading wrong disinformation, fake news, and manipulations;
● Access to the internet will be resumed in certain regions of the country and within certain intervals;
● Free access to the internet does not mean ‘unfettered placement of speculations, aspersions, insults, or inflammatory messages’, and such publications will be appropriately addressed by the State by identifying and punishing their authors.
Pursuant to the President’s directive, on the 8th of January mobile operators started crediting to their subscribers
On January 8th, the Minister for Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industry, Bagdat Musin published a post on Facebook that internet restrictions are ‘related to the fact that terroristic groups use communications means to coordinate and plan their actions’. On the same day, an access was granted to the limited list of mass media sources, namely inform.kz, qazaqstan.kz, tengrinews.kz, 24.kz, baq.kz, baigenews.kz, and stopfake.kz, as well as to bank applications, such as Kaspi and Halyk, and to the President’s website akorda.kz.
On the same day, Almaty received access to web resources from 9 a.m. to approximately 2 p.m., and then the internet was blocked again.
On January 10th, access to internet resumed was and no more shutdowns followed.
Internet shutdown is one of the key legal measures to maintain safety and security under a state of emergency. The question is if such internet shutdown was justified and if such measures met international standards.
Truly, the major task of any state is to ensure safety for the protection of life and health of its population, and yet citizens could not use their common means of communications when cut from the internet. Taking into consideration the solid growth of the popularity of the internet technologies
many Kazakhstani citizens were left unaware of the events in their country, having been totally blocked from the access to information.
200
sms
300
minutes
Besides, Akorda (Presidential Administration) was sending out short messages to inform the population on important events in the country.
Summing up all above-said:
International standards and Resolution No. A/HRC/47/L.22 issued by the UN Human Rights Council on July 7th, 2021, state that the total internet shutdown in a country may constitute a violation of human rights. Details on how the internet shutdown and, speaking in general, consequences of the January events influenced other digital human rights are given below.
Recommendations
● The State should take into consideration Resolution No. A/HRC/47/L.22 issued by the UN Human Rights Council on July 7th, 2021, as well as other international standards in the field of human rights, which are mentioned in this section, to prevent the same violations of human rights related to the total internet shutdown in future.

● All parties, supportive of the implementation of clause 17 of Resolution No. A/HRC/47/L.22 dated July 7th, 2021, are recommended to contact the Officer of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to request his reviewing and evaluating the case of Kazakhstan at the upcoming 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

● The State is recommended to think over possibilities to maintain safety for protecting life and health of its population without internet shutdown and make relevant amendments into its legislation, in particular, to exclude certain provisions of the Law “On State of Emergency” (article 14-1 and subclause 10 of clause 1 of article 15), because otherwise human rights on opinion and expression as well as rights to information and other online rights and freedoms might be disproportionately restricted, especially in crisis or under a state of emergency or quarantine, when the lack or shortage of important information could become critical.