Tajikistan blocks Facebook, news sites

The Tajikistan government has ordered the country's ISPs to block facebook.com, zvezda.ru, tjknews.com, maxala.org, and other websites after president Emomali Rakhmon was criticized.

The Tajikistan government on Saturday ordered Internet service providers (ISPs) to block Facebook, along with several independent news websites. The shutdown was ordered by the state-run communications service because the websites were critical to the president Emomali Rakhmon, according to the Tajik news agency Asia Plus.

"Internet providers received a spoken order from government agents to block the sites," Parvina Ibodova, president of the country's web-provider association, said in a statement. "We are minions. We get our licences from the authorities and that's why, as though we were circuit breakers, we are obedient and cut access to the sites." They were told the sites had to be blocked for technical and security reasons.

The ISPs have different lists of websites that have been blacklisted, but all of them include facebook.com, zvezda.ru, tjknews.com, and maxala.org. Users who try to access these and other websites are automatically redirected to their ISPs home page.

Political website Zvezda was reportedly the first to go down, on Friday evening, soon after publishing an article titled "Tajikistan on the eve of a revolution" that analyzed Rakhmon's growing autocratic moves, which the author argued would bring country to the mass unrest. Local news site TJKNews republished the article.

Facebook was likely blocked because of how protesters in Arab countries and in Russia have used it to coordinate public rallies (see links below). Twitter, which has also been used for such purposes, has not (yet?) been banned.

Facebook's usage is growing in Tajikistan, but its userbase is still quite minute: 29,000 as of February 2012. The social network's penetration in Tajikistan is 0.39 percent compared to the country's population and 4.15 percent in relation to the country's Internet users, according to Socialbakers. Several Facebook groups openly discuss politics and some users have been critical of the authorities.

Tajikistan, which has a population of 7.5 million people, is a former Soviet republic in Central Asia that borders Afghanistan and China. The poorest of the former Soviet nations, the mainly Muslim country has been ruled by Rakhmon since 1992. Although media operate with fewer restrictions than in neighbouring Uzbekistan, journalists have been detained in recent months. Furthermore, authorities have imprisoned more than 150 people from religious groups in the last two years on charges of extremism and attempting to subvert the constitution. Rakhmon must stand again for election by November 2013, and if he wins, he will get seven more years as president.

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