The chief of Tajikistan’s communications agency says he has blocked Facebook access in the country because Internet users were begging him to shut that “hotbed of libel.” And he wants a few words with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Earlier Beg Zukhurov denied any blockade, saying he could log onto Facebook just fine and that perhaps some Internet providers were having technical problems. But on November 27 he admitted he gave the order: "Public figures have talked to me about this several times. I've had a lot of calls from outraged Tajik residents who ask me to shut down Facebook," RIA Novosti quotes Zukhurov as saying.
He added that a group of volunteer Internet monitors had described numerous violations (of what, it’s unclear). "Government heads are being insulted on the site and these statements are being made by fake users. Some people are clearly getting paid good money for this," RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.
In August, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) wrote to Zukhurov of its “profound concern” that he was creating a group of Internet monitors accountable to him and not the courts. “Such a system of control could lead to the wholesale blocking of online publications and websites. While we agree defamation should be penalized, it should be dealt with by the courts, where defendants can put their case and have the right of appeal,” RSF wrote.
The defendant in this case appears to be the social network’s founder and chairman, Mark Zuckerberg.
"Does Facebook have an owner? Can he come to Tajikistan? I'd meet him during visiting hours. If he does not have time, I'd talk to his assistants,” the BBC’s Russian service quoted Zukhurov as saying. (Zukhurov's visiting hours are Saturday's from 10am to noon.)
Zukhurov would like to discuss with Zuckerberg his theory that Facebook users are being paid to complain about their leaders, which is keeping them from discussing more important issues: "For example, somewhere in Tajikistan there is no water or roads are bad or the weather forecast is incorrect. But users do not write about these [topics]. They write especially about money issues. I was told that the users who post critical comments about officials and entrepreneurs are paid $5,000 to $10,000 for doing this. I'm very surprised about how expensive the comments are.”
Tajikistani Facebook users in the know are still able to access the site thanks to ubiquitous proxy servers. The chairman of the Association of Tajikistan's Internet Providers, Asomuddin Atoyev, said the blockade would thus simply make Tajikistan look foolish.
"This instruction violates consumer rights, the rights of Internet users in this particular case, and damages the country's image," Atoyev told Dushanbe’s Avesta news agency.
Atoyev added that Zukhurov’s agency was not doing its job by constantly blocking and unblocking sources of news and information. Information and communications technologies (ICT) “play a huge role in resolving important tasks, and those agencies directly involved in the development and expansion of ICT should understand this,” Atoyev said, adding that the government was doing the future of the industry in Tajikistan a “disservice.”
In March, Zukhurov’s office blocked Facebook and several Russian websites that had posted articles critical of Tajik strongman Imomali Rahmon. At first Zukhurov denied having issued the order, then said Facebook had been blocked for “prophylactic maintenance.” The OSCE and rights groups called on Tajikistan to drop the blockade. After a week, it was lifted.
There are over 40,000 Facebook users in Tajikistan, where the network is one of the last remaining places for free and open discussion.