(New York, NY) — On the evening of January 4, the government of Kazakhstan instituted an internet blackout amid swelling protests triggered by a sudden rise in energy prices. PEN America denounces this move as a blatant attempt by the government of Kazakhstan to quash the right of its citizens to freedom of expression.

“This blackout is a blatant attack on freedom of expression by the government of Kazakhstan,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia director. “It is clear that this move is designed to silence the voices of Kazakhstani citizens. Internet shutdowns are a classic and cowardly tool of undemocratic regimes, and we have seen them deployed across the post-Soviet space in countries like Russia and Belarus. We call on the government of Kazakhstan to respect democratic principles and immediately restore complete and unconditional access to the internet for all citizens of the country.”

Beginning in the western city of Zhanaozen, the protests — some of which have been marred by violence from both police and protesters — have since spread across the country. While the government’s decision to lift the price cap on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) was the trigger, the protesters have made clear that their demands are broader and include calls for an end to authoritarianism in the country.