The Kazakhstan government has shut down cell towers and Internet access in the oil city of Zhanaozen as the president decreed a state of emergency after riots erupted in the southwest part of the country. The state of emergency allows authorities to issue a curfew, blackout radio, tv and other communications, which are said to have been down since Friday. A group of hackers is working hard to keep Internet connections open to citizens in areas that have been affected by the blackout.
Tensions in the western part of the country began back in May when hundreds of striking oil workers from State-run KazMunaiGas Exploration Production were fired. The firings and unresolved worker grievances sparked more strikes and protest.
Reuters has been following the unrest reporting on Friday that fired oil workers and protesters clashed with police during a Kazakh independence day celebration, which resulted in at least 12 deaths after police opened fire. Protests have now spread to other parts of the country including the nation’s capital.
International human rights groups and journalists are trying to assess the situation and verify the death toll but are finding it difficult to get information from officials or on-the-ground citizens. There are reports of higher death tolls on Kazakh social media but the information cannot be confirmed.
The hacker network Telecomix announced on Saturday it has been working to get free dialup servers set up to restore Internet access in Zhanaozen.
Telecomix has published instructions online on how volunteers can establish their own dialup service and is using Twitter and other networks to get the word out. Through modem connections citizens can maintain access to online independent news sources and communicate with the outside world.
Earlier this year Telecomix successfully employed modem connections in Egypt to keep citizens connected during the 2011 Egyptian revolution.