The IPI global network today expresses its dismay by the adoption of a new media law in Kazakhstan following its signature Wednesday by President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev. This comes after a vote on the law at the Senate of Kazakhstan earlier this month, and earlier by the Majilis (lower house of parliament) in April. We note with worry that none of the concerns listed in our statement from January this year were reflected in legal amendments made over the past months.

Two amendments to the current text in particular have been widely criticized among Kazakhstan’s media community. The first concerns the status of online media, which would be obliged to undergo registration, a procedure mentioned as optional in the initial version of the bill. The draft law would also abolish the distinct legal status of news agencies, forcing existing ones to re-register as online media.

The second amendment includes an outright ban on the work of unaccredited foreign journalists and media, as well as authorities’ right to refuse their accreditation on the vague basis of “risks to national security”, which are not defined by law.

Most problematically, the decision to refuse accreditation would be made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs only, in practice depriving applicants from contesting refusals in court.

“While IPI supports in principle the efforts by Kazakhstan to modernize its media legislation in a constructive manner inclusive of the country’s media and civil society actors, we are concerned to see changes which could seriously harm press freedom in Kazakhstan”, said IPI Interim Executive Director Scott Griffen. “We are particularly concerned by the introduction of vague ‘national security’ rules and new accreditation rules that, together, could risk seeing foreign correspondents prevented from working in Kazakhstan in an arbitrary manner or retaliated against for their critical journalism.”

He added: “Moreover, the regulation of online media should follow international best practices. Online media should be allowed to function freely. Their registration with authorities may be offered as an optional service, but it should not be compulsory for those websites which do not wish to benefit from it.”

Following public outcry over the law at the beginning of the year, Kazakhstan’s government was able to come to an agreement with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which was one of the outlets most concerned by the changes created by the new law. While the agreement ensured accreditation for most of its journalists, the provisions of the country’s new media law still allow for the potentially arbitrary cancellation of this accreditation in the future. This risk also remains for journalists working at multiple other media outlets.