The U.S. State Department released a report on Wednesday, slamming Kazakhstan for restrictive media practices, stifling free speech, and other human rights violations. One of the examples used in the report was the country’s treatment of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who portrays the character Borat.
As Borat, Cohen started a website, registered with a Kazakhstan domain name. In it, he portrayed himself as a journalist, living in Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstan he showed was anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic. In response, the country revoked the domain registration, threatened a defamation suit, and forced Cohen to move the site to another web address.
After moving the website, Cohen – writing as Borat – wrote that he fully supported the “government’s decision to sue this Jew.” After the website had been moved, longtime Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev stopped his planned defamation suit. Instead, he invited the British actor to come visit his country and see what it was really like.
Kazakhstan is a major producer of oil. The one-time Soviet state is located in central Asia.
In addition to the Borat dust-up, the U.S. State Department report noted media reports that Kazakhstan “monitored e-mail and Internet activity, blocked or slowed access to opposition websites, and planted propaganda in Internet chat rooms. The government limited individuals’ ability to criticize the country’s leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit local media outlets’ criticism of them.”
In addition, the report highlighted the murder of an opposition politician, Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, and criticized the country’s courts. The criticism was leveled because of a failure “to follow up and investigate signs that other parties and high-level government officials may have been involved in instigating the killings.”
According to a Reuters report, other areas of concern in the State Department’s report include “indications of military hazing, police torture, unhealthy prison conditions, arbitrary arrests, domestic violence against women, restrictions on the right to free assembly and severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government.”
One of the bright spots in the report is that, although many things are oppressive, restrictive, and corrupt, there is religious tolerance and appears to be very little oppression of minority faiths.