When you become president of certain countries in the Middle East, apparently you get a welcome package with all of the implements of your office. Included in this assortment is a note that says, “In times of trouble and potential political strife, turn off the Internet.” Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak pulled this stunt earlier this year at the beginning of the Arab Spring. It’s arguable that this move galvanized protesters and those sympathetic to their cause. Ignoring that important lesson, now Kazakhstan has pulled an Egypt on the city of Zhanaozen by disabling all Internet access and cell phone towers.
The blackout came over the weekend after the president of Kazakhstan declared a state of emergency after the death of at least 10 people in a clash Friday involving police and protesters. TechieInsider describes the mayhem:
The Kazakhstan government has shut down cell towers and Internet access in the oil city of Zhanaozen as the president decreed a state of emergency after riots erupted in the southwest part of the country. The state of emergency allows authorities to issue a curfew, blackout radio, tv and other communications, which are said to have been down since Friday. A group of hackers is working hard to keep Internet connections open to citizens in areas that have been affected by the blackout.
Tensions in the western part of the country began back in May when hundreds of striking oil workers from State-run KazMunaiGas Exploration Production were fired. The firings and unresolved worker grievances sparked more strikes and protest.
Reuters has been following the unrest reporting on Friday that fired oil workers and protesters clashed with police during a Kazakh independence day celebration, which resulted in at least 12 deaths after police opened fire. Protests have now spread to other parts of the country including the nation’s capital.
Human Rights Watch has demanded that the Kazakh authorities “immediately restore communications with Zhanaozen and ensure an investigation into clashes there between police and civilians is independent.”
Meanwhile, according to activepolitic.com, hacktivist group telecomix has provided instructions for setting up a dial-up network so that people inside of Zhanaozen will at least have some Internet access, however limited it may be.
Given that this tactic of shutting off all communication has had a success rate of 0% so far, Kazakhstan’s authorities should probably use this thing called “the Internet” and do a little research before going on communications blackout like this. These sorts of things tend to piss people way off. Just ask Mubarak how well that ended for him.