Cyberspace in the Post-Soviet States: Assessing the Role of New Media in Central Asia

Date01 June 2020
DOI10.1177/0973598419875266
Published date01 June 2020
Subject MatterArticles
1 Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Aliah University, Kolkata, India.
Corresponding author:
Mohammad Reyaz, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Aliah University,
Kolkata, West Bengal 700014, India.
E-mail: mail@reyaz.in
Cyberspace in the
Post-Soviet
States: Assessing
the Role of
New Media in
Central Asia
Mohammad Reyaz1
Abstract
Since independence, the five post-Soviet States of Central Asia have
taken divergent trajectories of economic growth as well as civil and
political liberties. Respective regimes still try to regulate information
flow in a continuation of the Soviet era, with the possible exception
of Kyrgyzstan. Nonetheless, the overall regulations on media are
certainly much more pluralistic now than they were in the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Internet and social media, in particular,
have emerged as an important platform for communication. But our
knowledge about Central Asia in general and the digital space of the
region, in particular, is still limited. This article makes a comprehensive
country-wise assessment of the cyberspace of the five Central Asian
countries to understand better the role and impact of the information
and communication technologies in these post-Soviet states.
Keywords
Central Asia, Internet, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan,
social media, Uzbekistan
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
24(1) 7–27, 2020
2019 Jadavpur University
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/0973598419875266
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Article
8 Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 24(1)
Introduction
In November 2018, a man in Kazakhstan, Aset Abishev, was sentenced
for four years for a post on Facebook, which, according to prosecutors,
‘discredited the head of state, members of his family and the ruling
power of the Republic of Kazakhstan’, besides inciting a ‘mood of
protest among the population’ (Lillis 2018). A few months earlier, in a
similar case, a man in Tajikistan was sentenced for five years for
‘regularly’ writing on Russian social networking site Odnoklassniki,
‘insulting the president’ and calling for the ‘overthrow of the
government’. The man in question, 30-year-old Umar Murodov, a
migrant labourer in Russia, accepted during the trial that he ‘liked’ and
shared several videos online, but insisted that he never had the intention
of either slandering the president or overthrowing the government
(Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty [RFE/RL] 2018, August 16). These
two instances from two Central Asian countries are manifestations of
how semi-authoritarian rulers of these countries have increasingly
become cautious of their images online, although the penetration of
Internet is still not very high in the region.
The Internet has emerged as an important platform for communication
as well as creative works worldwide. Central Asia, comprising the five
post-Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan,
and Tajikistan, has made great strides since the disintegration of the
Soviet Union in December 1991 (McNair 1991). Although respective
regimes try to regulate information flow and attempt to control the
media, with the possible exception of Kyrgyzstan, it is certainly much
more plural now than it was three decades ago when it was still part of
the Soviet Union (for details, see Reyaz 2014; also Freedman 2005;
Kenny and Gross 2008). Like other countries, several grassroots activists,
artists, and journalists in Central Asia use it for mobilization and for
spreading information related to their causes (Junisbai et al. 2015). Even
here, social media often leads the mainstream media and shapes editorial
decisions on news coverage. This article makes a comprehensive
country-wise assessment of the Internet-scape of the five Central Asian
countries to understand the role and impact of the information and
communication technology (ICT) in these post-Soviet states.

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