The Central Asian country of Kazakhstan has introduced Internet censorship out of fear of criticism from government opponents. The authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a law that puts opinion contributions in blogs and chats under special control. This was reported by the Russian media today. The Moscow newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda writes that the leadership in Astana wants to prevent dissenters from quickly agreeing to protest actions via the Internet, as they did in Moldova at the beginning of April. In 2010 Kazakhstan is to take over the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is also supported by Germany.
The decree puts the Internet on an equal footing with the other media, most of which are loyal to the state. The human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticises the “regulation of the Internet” as a restriction of freedom of expression. HRW Director Holly Cartner, responsible for Central Asia, called on the Kazakh government to overturn the law and implement the democratic reforms called for by the West. At the beginning of the year, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal President Horst Köhler also called for the observance of human rights at a meeting with Nazarbayev in Berlin.
The territory of Kazakhstan (officially Kazakstan Respublikasy) lies on the border between Asia and Europe and extends from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai Mountains in the east over two time zones and a length of 3 000 km. In the north the country borders on the Siberian lowlands of Russia, in the south on the Kysylkum desert and the Tien-shan mountain range. With an area of 2 724 900 km², Kazakhstan is about five times larger than France. Within the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), of which the country is a member, it is the second largest.
A total of around 12 000 km of the border connects Kazakhstan with its five neighbouring countries: China to the south-east, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to the south. Finally, in the north lies the 6 846 km long border with Russia. The country’s capital is Astana with a population of around 313,000. Around 1.3 million people live in the former capital Almati. The city on the border with Kyrgyzstan is better known in the west under its former name: Alma-Ata. Other larger cities are Karaganda (436 900 inhabitants), Shymkent (360 500), Pavlodar (301 000) and Taraz (330 500).
Large parts of Kazakhstan consist of plains, more than two thirds of the country are deserts and semi-deserts. The north is part of the West Siberian lowlands, in the west the Caspian depression, the Kazakh steppe and the low mountain range of the Mugodscharberge, which is over 700 m high, extend. Behind it is the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest drainless lake. Its main tributary is the Volga. Numerous rivers flow through the steppes (there are about 8,500 larger and smaller rivers in Kazakhstan). They flow either into the Caspian Sea or into Lake Balchash or Lake Saissan, the most important inland waters in Kazakhstan besides the Aral Sea. The largest rivers are the Urals and the Emba, which flow into the Caspian Sea, while the Syrdaria flows into the Aral Sea and the Ishim and Tobol rivers flow into the Arctic Ocean. The centre of the country is occupied by the Turgai Plateau and the vast Kazakh Threshold. In the south there are deserts and the lowlands of Turan, where the Aral Sea lies. The Aral Sea is the best known of the country’s 48,000 lakes, some of which are salty. In the Balchash Lake region further east lies the starvation steppe (Betpak-Dala), Mujunkum and the Siebenstromland. On the eastern and southeastern edges of these regions lie high mountains: the southern Altai Mountains, the western Tarbagatai Mountains and on the border with China the northern Tien-shan with the 4 973 m high Transili-Alatau, the highest mountain in Kazakhstan. There are about 2,700 glaciers in the country’s mountains.
Kazakhstan has officially been a sovereign and democratic presidential republic with a multi-party system since 1995. The head of state is a president directly elected for five years (Nursultan Ä. Nazarbayev, since 1990). His term of office is seven years. The prime minister (Kärim Mässimow, since April 2014) holds the highest executive power and is appointed by the president, as is his deputy.
Parliament consists of two chambers: the House of Commons and the Senate. The 107 members of the lower house (Madschlis) are elected every five years, nine of whom are representatives of ethnic minorities. The Senate has 47 members, 32 of whom are elected, 15 of whom are appointed by the President of the Republic; the Senators remain in office for six years. The Supreme Court has 44 members and there is also a Constitutional Court with seven judges. Kazakhstan is divided into 14 provinces (Oblystar), two cities (Quala; these are Almati and Astana) and the special district Baikonyr.
The increasing exploitation of Kazakhstan’s rich natural resources – crude oil, natural gas, coal, iron and copper ore – has helped the economy to a considerable upswing in recent years. The heavy industry built up in the Soviet era has increased the share of industrial production in the gross domestic product (GDP) to 39%. Thanks to the vigorously implemented reform programme and foreign investment, but above all due to increased oil production and exports, economic growth of 5.0 % was again achieved in 2012. The pipeline to the Black Sea, opened in 2001, was also decisive in this respect.
The agricultural sector (4 % of GDP) mainly produces grain, which is also exported, and cotton. Livestock breeding (including Karakul sheep for wool production) is also practised on a large scale in Kazakhstan.
The main exports today are crude oil (65%), ores, metals and metal goods, but also coal, natural gas, iron ore, bauxite, copper, nickel, lead, gold, uranium and chromium. Most industrial plants are used to process these raw materials, while tractors, agricultural machinery and engines are also produced. Exports are mainly to China, Italy and the Netherlands. Imports (machinery, chemicals, food) also come largely from Russia, China and Ukraine. The currency is the tenge (= 100 Tiin).