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Surge in website blocking following violent clashes between government forces, armed groups in eastern Tajikistan

UPDATE: Freedom House urgently calls for restraint in Gorno-Bardakshan region of Tajikistan (Freedom House, 22 August 2012)

(RSF/IFEX) - 2 August 2012 - Access to the leading independent news website Asia-Plus has been blocked for the third time in two months. It was last blocked on 23 July and had only just been restored when it was blocked again yesterday. Tajikistan's Internet Service Providers are doing the blocking at the behest of the Communications Agency, which cites "technical reasons."

The Russian news agency RIA-Novosti's website has also been blocked, joining YouTube, two other Russian news sites (Lenta.ru and Vesti.ru ), two news portals specializing in Central Asia (Fergananews.com and Centrasia.ru) and the local forum Pamir-vesti.ru, all of which have been filtered and blocked in recent days.

Access to the BBC's website was blocked on 30 July and restored the next day.

"Tajikistan already came close to being added to the list of countries 'under surveillance' in our last 'Enemies of the Internet ' report in March and now the government is clearly doing everything possible to make sure it is added next year, regardless of the negative impact this would have on the country's image," Reporters Without Borders said.

"By making increasingly systematic use of cyber-censorship, Tajikistan is falling in line with its Central Asian neighbour Kazakhstan and could eventually catch up with neighbouring Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan , which practice even more drastic forms of online censorship."

The management of Asia-Plus has voiced frustration with the repeated blocking and with the resulting financial losses and damage to its reputation. Its executive director said Asia-Plus would conduct no more negotiations with the head of the Communications Agency, Beg Zukhurov, because the agreements reached in the past had not been respected.

The surge in website blocking coincided with violent clashes between government forces and armed groups in Khorog , the capital of the southern autonomous province of Gorno-Badakhshan, which neighbours Afghanistan. It is very hard to establish the exact situation in Khorog but it seems to have calmed down in the past few days and the army has begun to withdraw.

Dozens of people are thought to have died in the clashes but there is a great deal of variation in the casualty estimates.

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