US News Site Blocked In Kazakhstan After Stinging Expo Review

US News Site Blocked In Kazakhstan After Stinging Expo Review

Astana, Kazakhstan: Internet providers in Kazakhstan have blocked access to the Washington-based Foreign Policy news website after it gave an unflattering review of an extravagant expo being held in the oil-rich country.

An AFP reporter who tried to access the site through two different Internet service providers (ISPs) on Tuesday, including the biggest, Kazakhtelecom, in which the government has a controlling stake, got messages that the connection had timed out.

The block appeared to start late Monday.

In an article published last week under the headline “Kazakhstan Spent $5 Billion on a Death Star and It Doesn’t Even Shoot Lasers”, Foreign Policy said the event held in the capital Astana was dull and poorly attended.

The country’s information minister Dauren Abayev appeared to confirm Tuesday that access to the site was being blocked, but said it was not being done on the orders of his ministry.

“We are now looking into this. We don’t rule out that someone did this deliberately, in order to turn up the heat on this topic. There were no actions on our part,” Abayev said in comments to the to Tengri News website.

But he also accused the Foreign Policy reporter, James Palmer, of writing “untruths and misinterpreting facts”.

A spokesman for the Astana Expo 2017, whose theme is “Future Energy”, claimed during a press briefing Monday that Palmer had never even visited Kazakhstan.

But Palmer, the Asia editor at Foreign Policy, posted on Twitter photographs of his passport showing entry and exit stamps, as well as a ticket stub from the expo.

Abayev played down the allegation by the spokesman, describing it as an “emotional reaction.”

Some Kazakh news sites — though not the major ones under tight state control — published translations of the Foreign Policy article.

One of the claims made by Palmer was that many pavilions at the expo “were barren of anyone except staff.”

An AFP correspondent who visited the expo’s opening day on June 10 found the event well attended with long queues at several pavilions.

But an AFP photographer said crowds had dropped “perhaps by half” by the next day.

The government says the expo cost Kazakhstan $1.3 billion, in a country still reeling from the collapse of global energy prices in 2014.

The country is keen to portray itself as a Central Asian success story, though it often shows a humourless response to criticism, as seen with the 2006 spoof film “Borat”, which is still banned from Kazahk cinemas.