Kazakhstan: No internet and cryptocurrency problems

To stop protests, the government in Nur-Sultan restricts digital communication

The mass protests against increased fuel prices in Kazakhstan are having an impact on digital communication in the former Soviet republic. For the second day in a row, the internet was completely shut down yesterday, and mobile telephony was disrupted as well. Some Kazakh television stations also temporarily suspended their operations.

The background of the restrictions is unclear, but it seems that the government wants to prevent further protests. This is also indicated by the fact that the internet services were restarted at the very time when President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was giving a speech. He called the demonstrators „terrorist gangs“ and announced that he would ask the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation for help. A few hours after his speech, the country’s connectivity dropped to zero again.
It is not the first time such a measure has been taken. The Kazakh authorities have, for example, limited the internet during several elections and the „National Day of Victory“.

The current outage has been documented by Netblocks, an organisation that has been monitoring internet freedom around the world since 2017. Netblocks believes that the measure was instigated by the government and is intended to prevent coverage of the protests.

The Kazakh government had only recently presented a draft law to control foreign social media providers along Russian lines, writes the German internet portal netzpolitik.org. Two years ago, all internet users were forced to install a certificate with which the authorities can log all website visits. According to Reporters Without Borders, critical journalism in the country is increasingly restricted; on the press freedom ranking, Kazakhstan is in 155th place out of 180 countries.

It is unclear what technical means were used to implement the blackout. Presumably it is a matter of blocking certain services, because some websites are still accessible from abroad, for example. These include the pages of Prime Minister Askar Mamin and the National Bank.

The alleged internet censorship is having a considerable impact on cryptocurrencies. In November, Kazakhstan’s electricity grid operator had already rationed electricity for state-registered miners. Their disconnection from the internet, which has now taken place, also has an impact on the speed of generating new crypto-money in other countries. Kazakhstan is responsible for 18% of the so-called bitcoin hashrate. The figure refers to the computers connected to the crypto network, which is now slowing down worldwide. According to reports, the hashrate of the Bitcoin network has dropped by 12% because of this. However, the developments in Kazakhstan have not had a negative impact on the Bitcoin price so far.

Image: Astana, Kazakhstan (Andrey Filippov 安德烈, CC BY 2.0).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.