Kazakh police on Thursday arrested anti-regime protesters ahead of next month’s presidential elections, amid numerous reports of popular news and social media sites being taken offline.
Correspondents said they witnessed six arrests in a central square in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, after calls for a protest at a World War II victory day parade.
A journalist for a Kazakh news Web site, Daniar Moldabekov, was arrested and held in police custody for an hour “without explanation,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.
The arrests came after dozens of people were last week detained for calling for a boycott of the June 9 election, which they have said would extend decades of authoritarian rule.
France-based opposition figure Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker and energy minister, had called for the protests.
Ablyazov is an outspoken adversary of 78-year-old former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who in March shocked the country by calling time on his presidency.
He is still seen as calling the shots in the oil-rich nation of 18 million people, but he handed over power to Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a former Kazakh Senate chairman and diplomat who is all but certain to win the election.
On Thursday, Internet users complained that many independent local news Web sites were inaccessible, as well as the Kazakh service of US government-funded Radio Free Europe.
Others living in Almaty, a city of 1.5 million, complained that mobile Internet services were not working.
Facebook, YouTube and Instagram were also inaccessible.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the “massive Internet censorship by Kazakh authorities.”
It also called on Tokayev “to break with the oppressive legacy of his predecessor.”
Nazarbayev, whose reign began three decades ago when Kazakhstan was still a Soviet republic, has been regularly criticized by rights groups for stifling dissidents and the free press.
The country, an ally of Russia and China, has never held an election judged free or fair by Western election monitors.
Nazarbayev triumphed in a 2015 election with nearly 98 percent of the vote.
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