Domain Names as a Tool for Political Control?

A case that addresses all sorts of issues, and, at the same time, none of them. Reuters.com reported a few days ago that

The authorities in Kazakhstan, angered by a British comedian’s satirical portrayal of a boorish, sexist and racist Kazakh television reporter (Borat Sagdiyev ), have pulled the plug on his alter ego’s Web site. Sacha Baron Cohen plays Borat in his “Da Ali G Show” and last month he used the character’s Web site www.borat.kz to respond sarcastically to legal threats from the Central Asian state’s Foreign Ministry.

A government-appointed organization regulating Web sites that end in the .kz domain name for Kazakhstan confirmed on Tuesday it had suspended Cohen’s site. “We’ve done this so he can’t badmouth Kazakhstan under the .kz domain name,” Nurlan Isin, President of the Association of Kazakh IT Companies, told Reuters. “He can go and do whatever he wants at other domains.” Isin said the borat.kz Web site had broken new rules on all .kz sites maintaining two computer servers in Kazakhstan and had registered false names for its administrators.

Actually Borat has been around for a while, saying these things, as have Kazakh officials been trying to put the record straight about their country, but it appears to be a U.S. series, a movie in the works and an appearance at the MTV Music Awards that has been the catalyst for the Kazakhs to take action:

Cohen, as Borat, hosted the MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon last month and described shooting dogs for fun and said his wife could not leave Kazakhstan as she was a woman. Afterwards, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said it could not rule out that he was under “political orders” to denigrate Kazakhstan’s name and threatened to sue him.

Kazakhstan has also hired two PR firms and, according to the London Times, earlier this month published a four-page ad in the New York Times. Cohen must be lapping up the free publicity.

Reporters without Borders are upset about this abuse of the country domain name , linking it to the alleged stage-managed closure of opposition Kazakh web site Navi.kz, calling it censorship and beyond the competence of bodies that manage domain names:

In this way, it infringes the principles set out by ICANN, which requires that the management of the ccTLDs should be fair and non discriminatory.

Oddly, a piece in today’s IHT (which also, intriguingly, carries a 4-page ad for Kazakhstan; the story originally appeared in Wednesday’s European edition) quotes the Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman, Yerzhan Ashikbayev, as denying it was the government that had blocked the site. Whoever made the decision, this isn’t exactly censorship. Borat just moves his website here, and loves the attention. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of examples of government crackdowns on press freedom, including using the the Kazakh network information centre (KazNIC) to harass the opposition website Navi into changing domain name — twice. It can now be found at Mizinov.net. If Borat’s case does nothing else, it might raise public concern about political manipulation of those last two letters after the dot.

16. December 2005 by jeremy
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