The government of Tajikistan says it has not given orders to block any news websites–despite the fact that several news outlets say their websites have been blocked in the country for months.
Coming from the same government that said in 2012 that a “stray bullet” severed telephone, mobile, and Internet lines to the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, it’s hard to take the government’s present denial at face value.
Asia-Plus–an independent Tajik news site that says its website has been inaccessible in Tajikistan since May–reported that Jonibek Dadomatov, the head of regulations at the state communications service denied recently that the state was blocking news websites.
“The Communications Service can block access to the websites only on the basis of ruling of the Supreme Court and in some cases on the law enforcement agencies’ request for the purpose of preventing spread of information which could pose threat to the country’s security,” Dadomatov said.
But a presidential decree published at the start of the year and being phased in through 2016, makes it easier for the government to cut off access because it provides for a “Unified Electronic Communications Switching Center” and also “requires that all Internet and mobile communications traffic (i.e. voice and data) be run through the single state-owned telecoms provider Tajiktelecom.” According to Telia Company–which presently has a subsidiary in the country, Tcell–the new law “increases the government’s power to shut down and block services without obtaining the assistance of service providers.”
The January decree piggybacks off November 2015 amendments to the country’s antiterrorism law which permit government blocking of telecommunications systems in relation to counterterrorism operations. Dadomatov said, “To-date, more than 100 sites propagating violence and pornography have been blocked in Tajikistan,” but did not own up to any new blocks.
According to Asia-Plus, Dadomatov floated the idea that perhaps it was the ISPs that were having technical difficulties resulting in the inaccessibility of some websites.
Telia Company–formerly TeliaSonara–routinely publishes “freedom of expression” bulletins in relation to what the company calls “unconventional requests” that may have “potentially serious impacts on freedom of expression in telecommunications.” Perhaps unsurprisingly for frequent readers, many of these notices relate to the company’s subsidiaries in Central Asia. The two most recent pertain to Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
Telia–a Swedish-Finnish telecom giant–is getting out of the Eurasian market entirely after an embarrassing appearance in recent Uzbek telecom corruption scandals and overall difficulty across Eurasia. While this may be a prudent business move, one downside will be that there won’t be anyone issuing “freedom of speech” press releases regarding government requests to cut services. While Telia underscores in each one that it does not to engage in politics the very fact that it publicizes such requests can’t make the powers-that-be in Dushanbe or Astana very happy. (Note: the company’s rebranding seems to have lost old releases–many of which I have perused for past stories).
In reference to the 2012 service interruption, Telia’s release at the time noted that “due to political unrest” in the GBAO region, networks in the region were “shut down at the request of the government from July 25.”
Stray bullet was perhaps a euphemism for “government order.”
In the present, the government’s isn’t admitting to blocking Asia-Plus–in addition to RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Ozodagon news agency, and Avesta news agency–but no one really expects them to.