A popular Russian social networking site appears to have become the latest target of Tajikistan’s Internet sentinels.
Odnoklassniki.ru became inaccessible in Tajikistan this weekend, users say.
Tajik officials often block websites that carry material critical of the government. As usual, the communications agency has said little, today even denying it knows of the problem. But a representative of one leading Internet Service Provider (ISP) said he had received an oral order to block the site.
Odnoklassniki is popular among the million-plus Tajik migrant workers abroad who use it to communicate with their families back home.
Some users told Radio Ozodi that the site may have been blocked because some Tajiks fighting alongside jihadists in Syria have used it to post extremist content. Others point out that, like Facebook – which also has been blocked at times – Odnoklassniki is frequently used to spread material critical of the government and its strongman president.
YouTube also has been unavailable for a few weeks though authorities deny they are responsible. In June, when YouTube was also blocked, all other Google products were unavailable as well for a few days, though that appeared to be a technical side effect of the YouTube block (Google owns YouTube).
As such obstructions have become common in recent years, many Internet users have turned to proxy services. But the authorities are catching up and appear to be hindering access to those, too.
“I usually open ‘illicit’ websites through daidostup.ru. Now, this one is blocked,” an Internet user in Dushanbe told EurasiaNet.org by email. “The Internet providers are probably intimidated. […] They block everything, including proxy servers. It’s the Turkmenization of the Tajik Internet,” he said, referring to the repressive Central Asian country that Reporters Without Borders calls an “Enemy of the Internet.”
Users often complain about the head of the communications service, Beg Zukhurov, and his feeble grasp of how the Internet works.
Memorably, in November 2012, after first denying he had ordered Internet providers to block Facebook, Zukhurov said he had acted on the urging of unnamed “public figures” and invited Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg come to his office hours to discuss. That year Zukhurov also ordered the site blocked for “prophylactic maintenance.”
After government troops clashed with militants in Badakhshan province in 2012, the government blocked a number of news outlets nationwide and severed all phone and Internet connections to the remote eastern region. Zukhurov (sometimes known by his patronymic, Saburovich) explained that a stray bullet took out the lines.
Last year, Zukhurov’s office ordered YouTube blocked when videos of a possibly inebriated President Emomali Rakhmon dancing at his son’s wedding surfaced on the site. The attempted censorship made the videos more popular and the president’s zealous officials the subject of international ridicule.