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Authorities block news websites, Facebook in Tajikistan

(CPJ/IFEX) - 17 January 2013 - Tajik authorities must lift their order blocking domestic access to at least three news websites that have reported critically about issues such as energy shortages, rising unemployment, and human rights abuses, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The order, which also applied to Facebook, is at least the fourth such ban since the beginning of 2012.

The German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that Tajik Internet service providers had blocked domestic access to local websites TJKNews and TopTJ, the Tajik service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Radio Ozodi), and Facebook since this morning. The news outlets had also speculated about the winner of the presidential elections scheduled for fall. It is unclear why the authorities included Facebook in the ban.

Asomuddin Atoyev, head of Tajikistan's Internet Service Providers Association, told independent news website Asia Plus in an interview today that the state communications agency had sent a text message to the Internet providers on Wednesday night, ordering them to block access to the sites. ISP representatives told the local press that authorities did not give them a reason for the ban.

In an interview with Radio Ozodi today, Beg Zukhurov, head of the state communication's agency, denied issuing any orders to the ISPs and suggested instead that the news websites were inaccessible because of technical problems.

"Tajikistan's serial censorship of the Internet highlights the dangers that journalists and bloggers face worldwide once a government is able to intimidate telecommunications companies into doing its dirty work," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "Those who are committed to a free Internet must speak out against such actions and prevail upon Tajikistan to halt its blocking of news websites immediately."

Tajikistan has blocked domestic access to the independent media or Facebook at least three other times since 2012, after news outlets criticized the government's authoritarian policies, according to CPJ research.

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