Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the way the Tajik authorities are responding to protests by resorting to large-scale Internet censorship and blocking, which is drastically restricting the right of Tajik citizens to be informed.
The automatic reaction from the Tajik authorities to any difficulties is to block the flow of information online. Independent media, social networks, instant messaging services and censorship circumvention tools have all been largely inaccessible in Tajikistan since an increase in tension on 6 November.
The targets include the news website Asia-Plus, Facebook and YouTube, the Russian social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, and the messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram. Many Internet users who routinely use VPNs to circumvent website blocking report that the best-known VPNs are also blocked.
Internet censorship had become common place in Tajikistan in recent years but had usually remained below the current level. Leading news websites such as Ferghana and Akhbor are permanently blocked while others are blocked more sporadically.
“The normalization of large-scale Internet blocking is unacceptable,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The Tajik authorities should realize that reacting to all problems with censorship just encourages rumours. The international community should not accept the spread of the Chinese model of Internet filtering.”
Nuriddin Karshiboyev, the head of the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan (NANSMIT), an RSF partner, used the term “administrative feudalism” to describe the phenomenon. “We have repeatedly pointed out that blocking online media and alternative news sources violates citizens’ constitutional rights,” he said.
As usual, the authorities have denied carrying out any blocking and have blamed “technical problems.” National access to the Internet has nonetheless been a government monopoly since the start of 2018, which means the authorities can now block anything online without having to ask individual Internet service providers.
This capability was seen in action in the summer, when the authorities tried to restrict coverage of the murders of four foreign tourists.
The current wave of blocking came in response to tension in some parts of the country and the publication by Asia-Plus of an article about the economic privileges granted to certain businessmen close to the government.
Demonstrators gathered in the southern town of Khorugh on 6 November to protest against the reinforced security presence in the region, and its behaviour. Dozens were killed or injured in a prison mutiny the next day in the northern city of Khujand.
Tajikistan is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in 2018 World Press Freedom Index.