Kazakh site HOLA News reports website blocks after Pandora Papers coverage

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Stockholm, October 20, 2021 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed concern about the apparent blocking of the independent Kazakh news site News HOLA after reporting Pandora Papers offshore leaks. The website was largely inaccessible for 10 days after the cover was posted and only became functional after it was removed.

A statement on the store’s website on October 15 said that News HOLA founders Alisher Kaidarov and Adilet Tursynbek and editor-in-chief Zarina Akhmatova had resigned after removing a news item so they could access their restored website. The item was not specified in the statement, but an empty entry titled “Here’s a Headline” previously contained an October 4 article referring to reports naming Asel Kurmanbayeva, the alleged mistress of influential former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, as the alleged beneficiary of a secret offshore. payment, according to reports.

Internet users in Kazakhstan and abroad have started to report access difficulties News HOLA shortly after the publication of this article, according to information and the outlet’s Facebook account; it was not available again until October 14. The few other local websites covering the topic were not affected.

The point of sale statement said Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology had been used to block their traffic, suggesting that ISPs were deliberately obstructing the site. Akhmatova told CPJ via the messaging app that News HOLA has not received any notification or explanation from authorities or service providers regarding the outage.

On October 7, Information Minister Aida Balayeva told reporters that “according to preliminary information” the Ministry of Digital Development, which is responsible for blocking access to illegal online material, did not blocked the outlet, adding that the Ministry of Information would continue to investigate. why it was not working. Neither ministry responded to CPJ’s telephone and email requests for comment.

“The Kazakh authorities should investigate and explain the unrecognized blockage of News HOLA and provide assurances to all media that media coverage will be allowed to be broadcast on all platforms without interference, ”said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator in New York.

News HOLA was among several local news sites to report on an investigation by the global investigative network Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and an independent Kazakh news site Vlast, who said Kurmanbayeva received $ 30 million in 2010 for a stake in a company registered in the British Virgin Islands that appeared to be doing no business. The reported deal involved two Kazakh oligarchs considered close confidants of Nazarbayev, the investigation revealed. Nazarbayev and Kurmanbayeva did not respond to requests for comment on the story, according to the OCCRP report. Most of the Kazakh media writing on the Pandora Papers omitted any mention of the Kazakh elite, according to press reports.

Akhmetova said in an interview with a local YouTube channel that she believed authorities had targeted News HOLA for “cumulative” refusals to “cooperate” with the authorities. The site, which will continue to publish under new management, was founded in 2018 and has maintained its independence from both advertisers and government, he said in published statements and interviews. News HOLA had also suffered cyberattacks, including a DDoS attack, after posting a controversial interview with Nazarbayev’s grandson last year, according to news reports. The outlet reports 1.5 million unique visitors per month and had 279,000 Instagram followers as of mid-October.

Although Vlast and other media covering the topic were not blocked, Azamat Maitanov, editor of the independent news site Aq Zhayiq, who posted a similar story, told CPJ via a messaging app that a man posing as a “capitalist sympathizer” called him and told him to remove it “to avoid problems later” , although he did not comply.

Kaidarov, Tursynbek and Akhmatova wrote in the October 15 statement that they were leaving because they had to sacrifice their principles by suppressing a story. “We understood that there was nothing we could do, but to stay would have been a betrayal of ourselves and of journalistic principles,” Akhmetova told CPJ.


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