Online Activism in Politically Restricted Central Asia: A Comparative Review of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan

  • Bahtiyar KurambayevEmail author
Living reference work entry


This comparative study examined the Internet’s role and wider social media in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, three Central Asian countries in the democratization process. Specifically, this work aims to discuss how the Internet and social media are allowing Internet users wider opportunities to access and share information in a media-restricted region as well as collectively speak up in a restricted region of Central Asia. In general, Internet penetration is relatively low compared to other parts of the world. Still, the Internet has demonstrated its power in the region when presidents of Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and in 2010 were ousted. Both times, the Internet played the key role in facilitating such drastic change. While it is true that Central Asian countries have differently related policies and practices, varying from some freedom in Kyrgyzstan and total state control in Uzbekistan, it is also true that the region is experiencing an unprecedented boom in mobile phones, which brings the Internet to citizens.


Online activism Censorship Surveillance Central Asia Democracy Authoritarian government Social media Internet Former Soviet Union 


  1. Achilov D (2016) When actions speak louder than words: examining collective political protests in Central Asia. Democratization 23(4):699–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anceschi L (2015) The persistence of media control under consolidated authoritarianism: containing Kazakhstan’s digital media. Demokratizatsiya 23(3):277–295Google Scholar
  3. Asia Plus (2017, December 21) Официально. Служба связи отозвала лицензии на NGN у всех таджикских операторов. Retrieved from
  4. BBC (2010) BBC Q&A: Kyrgyzstan’s ethnic violence. Retrieved on July 27, 2018, from
  5. BBC (2011, December 16). Kazakh oil strike: 10 dead in Zhanaozen clashes. Retrieved on 22 Dec 2017, from
  6. BBC (2015, October 14) Kyrgyzstan: online protests over new chairs for MPs. Retrieved from
  7. Beisembayeva D, Papoutsaki E, Kolesova E (2013) Social media and online activism in Kazakhstan: A new challenge for authoritarianism? Paper presented at the Asian conference on media and mass communications 2013Google Scholar
  8. Bengard A (2017, December 5) В Кыргызстане только половина школ подключена к Интернету. Retrieved from
  9. Bowe B, Freedman E, Blom R (2012) Social media, cyber-dissent, and constraints on online political communication in central Asia. Central Asia Caucasus 13(1):144–152Google Scholar
  10. Breuer A, Landman T, Farguhar D (2014) Social media and protest mobilization: evidence from the Tunisian revolution. Democratization 22(4):764–792. Scholar
  11. Committee to Protect Journalists (2017a, May 15) Journalist and press freedom defender stabbed in Kazakhstan. Retrieved on 23 Nov 2017 from
  12. Cottle S (2011) Media and the Arab uprisings of 2011. Journalism 12(5):647–659CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Economist’s Democracy Index (2017). Democracy Index 2017. Retrieved on July 27, 2018, from
  14. Emrich F, Plakhina Y, Tsyrenzhapova D (2013) Mapping digital media: Kazakhstan. Retrieved from
  15. Freedman E, Shafer R (2012) Advancing a comprehensive research agenda for central Asian mass media. Media Asia 39(3):119–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Freedom House (2012) Freedom on the net 2012: Kazakhstan. Retrieved on 22 Dec 2017 from
  17. Freedom House (2017) Kazakhstan: freedom on the Net 2017. Retrieved on 22 Nov 2017 from
  18. Gil De Zúñiga H, Jung N, Valenzuela S (2012) Social media use for news and individuals’ social capital, civic engagement and political participation. J Comput-Mediat Commun 17:319–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gross P, Kenny T (2011) Journalistic self-censorship and the Tajik Press in the context of Central Asia. In: Freedman E, Shafer R (eds) After the czars and commissars: Journalism in authoritarian post-Soviet Central Asia. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, pp 123–139Google Scholar
  20. Hamilton A, Tolbert C (2012) Political engagement and the Internet in the 2008 U.S. presidential election: a panel survey. In: Anduiza E, Jensen M, Jorba L (eds) Digital media and political engagement worldwide: a comparative study. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp 56–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Heritage Foundation (2017) 2017 index of economic freedom: promoting economic opportunity and prosperity. Retrieved 26 Nov 2017 from
  22. Hiro D (2009) Inside Central Asia: a political and cultural history of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Iran. Overlook, LondonGoogle Scholar
  23. Howard P, Bradshaw P (2017) Troops, trolls and troublemakers: a global inventory of organized social media manipulation. Computational Propaganda Project, Oxford Scholar
  24. Human Rights Watch (2017) World report 2017: Kazakhstan. Retrieved from
  25. International Research and Exchanges Board (2017) Media Sustainability Index: Development of sustainable independent media in Europe and Eurasia. IREX, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  26. Internet World Stats (2017) Internet usage in Asia: Kazakhstan. Retrieved on 23 Nov 2017 from
  27. Kulikova S, Perlmutter D (2007) Blogging down the dictator: the Kyrgyz revolution and samizdat websites. Int Commun Gaz (69):29–50Google Scholar
  28. Kurambayev B (2016) Journalism and democracy in Kyrgyzstan: the impact of victimizations of the media practitioners. Media Asia 43(2):102–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kurambayev B (2017) Bribery and extortion in Kyrgyz journalism or simply profitable profession? Asia Pacific Media Educ 27(1):170–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mamytova A (2016) Ирина Карамшукина: Оскорбляя президента, оскорбляете государство. Retrieved from
  31. Marwick A, Lewis R (2017) Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online. Retrieved on July 27, 2018, from
  32. McGlinchey E, Johnson E (2007) Aiding the internet in Central Asia. Democratization 14(2):273–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Melvin N, Umaraliev T (2011) New social media and conflict in Kyrgyzstan. SIRPI Insights on peace and securityGoogle Scholar
  34. Morozov E (2012) The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York: Public Affairs PublishingGoogle Scholar
  35. Mould D, Schuster E (1999) Central Asia: Ethics–a Western luxury. In M. Kunczik (Ed.), Ethics in journalism: A reader on their perception in the Third World. Bonn: Fridrich-Ebert-StiftungGoogle Scholar
  36. Niyazbekov N (2017) Kazakhstan’s government is using social media to tame rebellion. Retrieved from
  37. Pitts G (2011) Professionalism among journalists in Kyrgyzstan. In: Freedman E, Shafer R (eds) After the czars and commissars: Journalism in authoritarian post-Soviet Central Asia. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, pp 233–243Google Scholar
  38. Putz, C. (2017). Thanks Dad! Tajik President’s son gets a new job. Retrieved from
  39. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (2014). Report: Western firms help central Asian states spy on citizens. Retrieved from
  40. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (2017) British AFP Journalist Says Banned From Kyrgyzstan. Retrieved on July 27, 2018, from
  41. Radnitz S (2012) Weapons of the wealthy: predatory regimes and elite-led protests in Central Asia. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  42. Reporters Without Borders (2017) 2017 World press freedom index. Retrieved from
  43. Reuter O, Szakonyi D (2015) Online social media and political awareness in authoritarian regimes. Br J Polit Sci 45(1):29–51. Scholar
  44. Shafiev A, Miles M (2015) Friends, foes, and Facebook: blocking the internet in Tajikistan. Demokratizatsiya 23(3):297–319Google Scholar
  45. Toleukhanova A (2016, April 1). Kazakhstan: Facebook lands more people in trouble. Retrieved on 21 Nov 2017 from
  46. Toralieva G (2014) Kyrgyzstan-challenges for environmental journalism. In: Kalyango Y, Mould D (eds) Global journalism practice and new media performance. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp 214–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Transparency International (2017) Corruption Perceptions Index: Tajikistan. Retrieved on July 27, 2018, from
  48. Tucker J, Theocharis Y, Roberts M, Barbera P (2017) From liberation to turmoil: social media and democracy. J Democr 28(4):46–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. United Nations Development Program (2017) Tajikistan. Retrieved from
  50. Vanderhill R (2015) Limits on the democratizing Influence of the Internet: lessons from Post-Soviet States. Demokratizatsiya 23(1):31–56Google Scholar
  51. Wojcieszak M, Smith B (2014) Will politics be tweeted? new media use by Iranian youth in 2011. New Media Soc 16(1):91–109. Scholar
  52. (2017, November 23). Оставлять комментарии на интернет-ресурсах анонимно казахстанцы теперь не смогут. Retrieved on 23 Nov 2017 from

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Media and Communications, College of Social SciencesKIMEP UniversityAlmatyKazakhstan

Personalised recommendations