San Francisco - Online news publisher Respublika has asked a federal judge in New York to clarify that officials in Kazakhstan can’t use a U.S. court order in a battle over leaked emails to censor news stories that are critical of the Kazakhstan government. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing Respublika, a longtime target of Kazakhstan intimidation and persecution because of its investigative reporting on President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s regime.
“An American court order is being misused to silence worldwide discussion and debate over a foreign government’s actions,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene. “For years, Kazakhstan has tried to shut down Respublika and harassed its founders, and we’re asking the judge to put a stop to Kazakhstan’s use of the court’s ruling as another tool in this censorship campaign.”
The case began in March, when Kazakhstan sued dozens of unnamed individuals in a New York district court for allegedly breaking into government computers and stealing thousands of messages sent from Gmail accounts. The judge in the case issued a preliminary injunction, forbidding these unnamed individuals from disseminating, using, or viewing the material.
Respublika, like many news outlets around the world, reported on the emails after others had posted them publicly. But Kazakhstan government attorneys have since sent multiple letters to the newspaper’s web host, demanding the removal of dozens of articles. Earlier this month, Kazakhstan went further, claiming that the court order required that Respublika’s entire site be disabled. The government also subpoenaed Facebook as well as the newspaper’s web host and domain registrar to obtain personal identifying information about the authors and readers of Respublika’s articles. To date, 47 articles have been removed and are no longer available to readers in the United States, Kazakhstan, and around the world.
This abuse and misuse of the court’s order is just the latest in Kazakhstan’s decade-long persecution of Respublika and those associated with it. Respublika has been driven out of Kazakhstan and subjected to an almost constant stream of coordinated DDoS attacks, and its founders have been subject to extreme harassment and intimidation.
Kazakstan is one of two countries still in the running to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported on how concerns about free expression and human rights might affect the country’s bid.
“Kazakhstan came to a U.S. court—where the First Amendment protects the publication of material even if a source obtained that material illegally—but it’s flouting our law. Kazakhstan officials are unilaterally deciding to whom the order applies and what the consequences are,” said Jamie Lee Williams, EFF Frank Stanton Legal Fellow. “The Respublika journalists simply did what they are supposed to do: report on information and events that affect people’s lives. Kazakhstan must not be allowed to censor their speech in this way.”
For the full letter to the judge: