Kyrgyzstan Blocks TikTok

Published: 18 April 2024

TikTok FlickrTikTok has been blocked in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: Nordskov Media, Flickr, License)

By Bektour Iskender

Kyrgyz authorities have begun blocking access to TikTok, a popular social media platform in the country, as part of a government crackdown on social networks and independent media.

Users encountered problems accessing the app on Thursday, after the National Security Service of Kyrgyzstan (GKNB) instructed internet providers to limit access to the service two days earlier.

TikTok fell victim to a controversial law signed by Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov in August 2023, aimed at “protecting children from harmful information.” Human rights organizations criticized the legislation back then, pointing out that it can be used as a tool for censorship.

The first attempt to block TikTok took place last year but was paused in September 2023, following a visit by representatives from the Chinese social media giant to Bishkek. These negotiations yielded no tangible results, as GKNB maintains that TikTok failed to “censor content”, and thus violated the country's legislation.

Kyrgyz authorities significantly expanded their capacity to block online content in 2021, when newly-elected President Japarov signed a law aimed at “combating fake information.” This legislation granted the government the authority to block online content without the need for a trial decision.

Since then, the volume of blocked online content has surged and TikTok is the first social media service to be censored. Previously, Kyrgyz authorities primarily targeted media outlets.

The OCCRP member center Kloop has been offline in Kyrgyzstan since September 2023, while RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service website faced several months of blackouts in 2023. The government allowed RFE/RL to resume online activity only after it agreed to remove content objected by Bishkek authorities.

TikTok’s blacklisting comes amidst an escalating crackdown on civil society in the Central Asian nation. In the beginning of April, President Japarov signed a controversial Foreign Representatives Law that echoes Russia’s Foreign Agents Law.

The law mandates that non-commercial organizations, and media outlets receiving foreign funding that engage in vaguely defined “political” activities, must identify themselves to authorities. It also grants authorities extensive oversight powers and introduces potential sanctions for unspecified criminal offenses.

Following the enactment of the Foreign Representatives law, the Soros Foundation Kyrgyzstan announced its decision to cease operations in the country, becoming the first organization to do so.

“I believe the foundation’s record over the past 30 years speaks for itself; the foundation and its dedicated staff have been able to provide important support for ordinary people across Kyrgyzstan in ways that bolster national aspirations toward democracy and open society,” Binaifer Nowrojee, President of the Open Society Foundations, said.

“We are deeply saddened that this work cannot continue and that this repressive new law will see civil society operate in a climate of uncertainty and intimidation,” she added.

Meanwhile, Kyrgyz authorities are poised to introduce a new mass media law, the latest draft of which suggests an expansion of government control over online platforms. This proposed legislation is expected to impose restrictions on content based on ambiguous criteria such as “morality” and “health,” according to Amnesty International.