On March 3, Internet providers in Tajikistan cut local access to Facebook, the social-networking service, along with another four independent news websites. The blocking was ordered by the state-run communications agency, which cited technical reasons. However, media and analysts suggested that the move reflected the authorities’ determination to limit the space for political expression at home and control the flow of uncensored information from outside (www.news.tj, March 3, 5).
The block on Facebook echoes measures taken by a number of other restrictive regimes, including China, Iran and Pakistan. Analyst Saimuddin Dustov blames the development in Tajikistan on Russian media outlets, which portray social networks as sources of unrest. Despite the limited Internet penetration in Tajikistan, Facebook’s popularity has recently been on the increase there. The platform has become an outlet for expressing frustration with the government. In addition, the Islamic Revival Party (IRPT), Tajikistan’s largest and most influential opposition group, as well as a number of opposition movements in exile have actively used Facebook to mobilize support. Local analyst Zafar Abdullayev believes that the authorities imposed a ban on the social network because they began seeing it as a source of political threat (www.news.tj, March 3, 13).
The other four websites that have been blocked are Russian-language news platforms. The article that appears to have triggered the blocking was published on a Russia-based website, Zvezda, on March 1. The article, entitled “Tajikistan on the Eve of a Revolution,” analyzes political and security dynamics in the country based on what it alleges are the minutes of Rahmon’s meeting with key government officials on November 24, 2011. A scanned copy of the minutes in Tajik, marked as secret and supposedly signed by the president, is also published, without any indication of how the document was obtained.