This past weekend, the Tajikistan government ordered Internet service providers (ISPs) to unblock Facebook, along with several independent news websites. The ban lasted about one week. The first site went down one week ago Friday and the rest were blocked on Saturday. The order to lift the ban came this past Friday, Facebook came back on Saturday, and the news websites soon followed, according to the Tajik news agency Asia Plus.
Throughout the week, users were able to access the blocked sites by using proxy servers. At least one ISP reportedly never followed the state-run communications service order.
The shutdown was ordered because the websites were critical to the president Emomali Rakhmon. The ISPs had different lists of blacklisted, but all of them included facebook.com, zvezda.ru, tjknews.com, and maxala.org. Users who tried to access these and other websites were automatically redirected to their ISPs home page.
Political website Zvezda was reportedly the first to go down, 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, was not 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.