Tajikistan orders Internet providers to block websites

New York, March 7, 2012–Authorities in Tajikistan must immediately lift the order blocking domestic access to several news websites and Facebook, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On Friday, the Tajik state communications agency ordered local Internet providers to block access to Facebook and the independent news websites Polyarnaya Zvezda, Maxala, CentrAsia, and TjkNews, according to news reports. The agency cited scheduled technical maintenance although it did not explain why it would need to shut down these particular websites, the independent regional news website Ferghana News reported.

Reuters reported that the authorities issued the order the day after Polyarnaya Zvezda published a political commentary, headlined “Tajikistan on the eve of revolution,” which TjkNews and CentrAsia republished shortly after. It is unclear if Maxala was targeted for similar reasons. The article covered a recent meeting in which Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon allegedly ordered security services to increase surveillance of local religious groups and members of the Islamic Party of Tajikistan, news reports said. The article also criticized Rahmon for growing authoritarianism, inattention to government corruption, and increasing poverty, CPJ’s review of the articles found.

Minutes of Rahmon’s meeting were also posted on Facebook, which spurred several public comments, before access to the social networking site was blocked, Radio Ozodi, the Tajik service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reported.

“We call on officials to immediately restore access to Facebook and to news websites Polyarnaya Zvezda, Maxala, CentrAsia, and TjkNews,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Rahmon’s administration should tolerate the criticism and scrutiny that come with holding public office, and stop censoring critical media.”

One local Internet provider told independent news website Asia-Plus that when it resisted the order, state Internet and communications company Tajiktelekom cut its service. The provider, which asked Asia-Plus not to reveal its name, eventually blocked access to the websites in exchange for restored service.

In a statement published Tuesday, Tajikistan’s Internet Providers’ Association condemned the censorship order and urged authorities to drop it, Radio Ozodi reported.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The name of the news website Polyarnaya Zvezda website has been corrected in this alert.