UPDATE 9 May 16:28 UTC: Full web access to the previously blocked sites has now been restored. Our original story follows.
As of Thursday 9 May, most popular Internet Service Providers in Kazakhstan have blocked access to various major social networking platforms. Sites currently affected include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, as well as the popular encrypted messaging app Telegram.
Access to several independent news and campaign websites has also been restricted, although these blocks don’t appear to be quite as widespread as those affecting the more well-known sites.
According to a report published by NetBlocks earlier today, these restrictions appear to be as a result of dissident groups in the country calling for demonstrations to take place on 9 May, so-called ‘Victory Day’, as Kazakhstan (along with several former Soviet states) commemorates its victory in World War II.
The network data measurements show that the blocks have been implemented at ISP level throughout this morning, and possibly late yesterday evening. The specific sites on the blacklist vary from one ISP to another, but it seems that most major ISPs are now affected in some way.
Both the social networking site Twitter and encrypted messaging app WhatsApp remain widely available in the country, which is very unusual during these types of shutdowns. Telegram’s desktop and mobile apps are also accessible for most thanks to censorship countermeasures included in the software.
Further internet scale measurements suggest that some networks have been completely disabled, meaning all users subscribing to that service will be unable to access the internet at all. This is pending further investigation.
In recent months, Kazakhstan has implemented several intermittent social media blocks as authorities attempted to restrict access to exiled political activist Mukhtar Ablyazov’s live broadcasts calling for public demonstrations. Blanket bans such as the one citizens are experiencing today remain relatively uncommon, though.
There’s no indication of when access to the blacklisted sites will be restored, but it is unlikely to be at any point on Victory Day itself.
As a nation, Kazakhstan has a less-than-spotless reputation when it comes to online censorship, and its internet is heavily regulated by the country’s authoritarian government.
According to Freedom on the Net’s 2018 report, it is one of the least privacy-friendly countries in the world, with authorities constantly restricting anonymity online while increasing their surveillance capabilities.
Our research has revealed that web search traffic for VPNs is up 235% so far this week, as Kazakhstani citizens look for ways to bypass the blocks.