Authorities in Tajikistan are ramping up efforts to keep information about recent fighting in the mountainous east from getting out.
Telephone and Internet connections to Gorno-Badakhshan, scene of heavy fighting July 24 between government forces and local rebels, remain cut for a third day. Asia-Plus, the country’s largest independent news agency, is blocked. Now several Internet service providers have blocked YouTube, users in Dushanbe confirm, as unauthenticated photos of dead soldiers and burning houses are circulating by email.
Officials still insist there were no civilian casualties in the clashes, which took place in the regional capital, Khorog, a town of some 30,000 on the Afghanistan border. Officially, 42 died: 12 government soldiers and 30 militants. But Asia-Plus and Radio Ozodi report dozens of civilian casualties.
Few will believe the official explanation given today by the head of the state communication service, Beg Zukhurov, that a stray bullet took out all communication links with Gorno-Badakhshan. Instead, his comments are likely to fuel increasing concerns by people unable to reach their loved ones. With rumors spreading quickly, many are asking what the government has to hide.
A large group of Pamiris, as the people in Gorno-Badakhshan are called, has appealed to Zukhurov to open communication links to the region, Asia-Plus reported.
Moreover, blocking Internet sites will only increase people’s interest in them, Parvina Ibodova, chair of Tajikistan’s Association of Internet Providers, told Asia-Plus. With the state not providing information, people have turned to the Internet and will continue to do so, she added.
“We all know perfectly well that ways of getting around blocks have become so obvious that even non-specialists can get around them. So I don’t see any sense in closing off access to Internet resources,” she said.
Earlier this year authorities blocked Facebook for a week after users spread materials criticizing strongman President Emomali Rakhmon on the social networking platform. At the time, Zukhurov’s office said the site was undergoing “prophylactic maintenance.”
A ceasefire remains in effect for a few more hours as authorities negotiate with the rebels to detain four warlords suspected in the July 21 death of a senior security services officer.