Officials in Tajikistan are heaping new confusion onto the ongoing shutdown of Facebook. While users triumphantly explain to each other how to access the site through proxy servers, a group close to President Emomali Rakhmon has suggested that Tajikistan should build its own social network to promote “the ideals and national values of the Tajik people.”
The state agency in charge of IT and telecommunications has claimed the March 2-3 block – condemned by a Tajik Internet lobby and US-based Freedom House – is “temporary” and for “prophylactic maintenance.”
Internet service providers have said they were ordered to block Facebook last weekend, along with three or four news portals, by the state Communications Service, after one of the portals published an article severely criticizing Rakhmon and his government. When queried by news agency Asia-Plus, the head of the service, Beg Zukhurov, denied any order to block Facebook, but said the authors of offensive online content “defaming the honor and dignity of the Tajik authorities” should be made “answerable.” Tajikistan frequently uses libel cases and extremism charges to silence critical journalists.
Zukhurov promised to restore the Facebook connection “soon.” (Meanwhile, what seems to be a copy of his order is circulating on – you guessed it – Facebook.)
Now, the head of the youth wing of the president’s party says his organization has decided to build its own Facebook for Tajikistan.
"On the website that’s being created preference will be given to the ideals and national values of the Tajik people, and it will serve as a platform for Tajik youth to exchange opinions," the chairman of the People’s Democratic Party’s youth wing, Adham Mirsaidov, told Asia-Plus.
That might remind some readers of Uzbekistan, where the government launched its own tightly controlled social-networking platform last September. But even Uzbekistan, which has blocked hundreds of websites including the Uzbek-language version of Wikipedia, allows Facebook to function.
Asia-Plus readers seemed uninspired by the idea of a Tajik “Facebook” controlled by the governing party. To Mirsaidov’s search for funding, one wrote to ask why someone in impoverished Tajikistan should spend money on a new web platform when there already exists a successful one that has connected people all around the world.