A man uses his mobile phone near Moscow State University on June 26, 2023. (Reuters/Maxim Shemetov)

Russia blocks two more Central Asian news outlets over Ukraine war coverage

Stockholm, September 18, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Russian authorities to lift blocks on independent Kyrgyz news website 24.kg and exiled Tajik outlet Payom and to stop censoring foreign media for covering Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Having already banned domestic media from reporting anything but state-sanctioned information, Russia’s censorship of international media outlets only shows how desperate it is to prevent its own people from accessing independent news about its invasion of Ukraine,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Takedown demands and blocks on Central Asian media outlets, which often have significant audiences in Russia, are unacceptable. All censorship of foreign media should end immediately.”

Roskomsvoboda, a Russian independent internet freedom group, reported that on September 12 an unspecified government agency blocked four of 24.kg’s web pages from October 2022 about the Ukraine war and two of Payom’s articles—a November 2022 speech by a Tajik politician in support of Ukraine and a February 2023 report about Russia potentially drafting individuals of Central Asian origin into the military.

A database maintained by Russian state media regulator Roskomnadzor also said that individual pages of those outlets were blocked.

However, according to Payom’s head of broadcasting Shavkatjon Sharipov and a 24.kg report, both websites were entirely blocked in Russia.

The decisions to restrict access to 24.kg and Payom were taken in November 2022 and May 2023, respectively, but were only implemented on September 12, Roskomsvoboda said.

In its report, 24.kg said that it refused several requests in 2022 from Roskomnadzor to remove articles on the Ukraine war because the articles did not violate Kyrgyz law.  

Sharipov told CPJ by messaging app that his Europe-based outlet, which is blocked in Tajikistan but broadcasts to Tajik nationals in Russia, did not receive any takedown demands and did not plan to remove any of its war coverage.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian authorities have blocked several Central Asia media outlets over their reporting on the war, including services affiliated with the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Kyrgyz independent news outlet Kloop, independent Kazakh news websites Ratel.kz and Arbat.Media, and the Central Asian service of independent Russian news outlet Mediazona.

Russian authorities have also requested that at least nine Kazakh outlets remove war-related content, according to data Kazakh media freedom organization Adil Soz sent to CPJ, while independent news website Arbat.Media was summoned to a hearing in February for publishing allegedly false information about the Ukraine war.