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Tajikistan: Big Brother to Watch Internet Activity in the Country

If you use Internet in Tajikistan and participate in online discussions, beware the Big Brother that will be watching you soon. On July 12, 2012, the country's authorities announced [ru] that they are planning to create an organization to monitor online publications and websites for “insulting” and “slanderous” content. Beg Zukhurov, the state telecommunications chief, said the new organization will recruit a group of volunteers, including from among local journalists. These volunteers will “track down and identify” individuals who publish materials and leave comments deemed insulting to the country's leadership.

In fact, the authorities claim [ru] they have already identified a “small group of people who are engaged in this indecent behavior while hiding behind aliases and nicknames”. According to Zukhurov, these people “purposefully badmouth decent people” and they do it “for big money they receive from the enemies of the Tajik people”.

And what will happen to people caught leaving “indecent” comments that insult “decent” government officials? The Tajik telecommunications tsar said [ru] he did not know but speculated that such individuals might be “cured” and “put on the right track” by “relevant” agencies.

Tajikistan's netizens have responded to the news with a flurry of angry comments left on news websites and social media platforms. Jasur Ashurov writes on Twitter:

Here comes the Big Brother that will watch us all in Tajikistan.

In an ICT-related public group on Facebook, Parvina Ibodova asks [ru]:

что это? зачем? на каких основаниях? кто уполномочил? кто будет определять наличие/отсутствие клеветы и/или оскорблений (а суды куда денем в таком случае??) ???

What is it? Why? Based on what? Who has authorized this? Who will decide whether there is insulting or slanderous content? And what are we going to do about the courts in this case???

Underneath a news report on Asia-Plus's website, Nora writes [ru]:

аааа куда мы, люди? Что за фигня происходит с государством??? И какие нахрен добровольцы? Кто вам тут сидеть будет и все за бесплатно проверять? Опять же деньги с и без того бедствующего народа! Объясните мне, пожалуйста, зачем нам нужна конституция, когда, казалось бы чиновники- послы народа, наплевали на нее и на народ??? Да черт возьми, где мои права???

Where are we heading, folks? What the hell is happening with the state??? Which volunteers are they talking about? Who will monitor everything for free? This will require more money from the nation that is already poor! Could someone please explain to me why do we need the constitution when officials – formally the people's ambassadors – do not give a damn about it and about the people??? Hell, where are my rights???

Under the same report, Tor asks [ru]:

А как же демократия и свобода слова? Или Господин Зухуров забыл про такие пункты в Конституции страны???

And what about democracy and the freedom of expression? Has Mr. Zukhurov forgotten that these things are provided for in the country Constitution???

Olga adds [ru]:

Это идиотизм, по другому назвать эту инициативу не могу. В этой стране все много хуже, чем я думала. Я имею право критиковать Рахмона, потому что он избранный нами президент, он не король а всего лишь чиновник. И подхалимы типа Бега Зухурова не имеют право указывать что и про кого мне думать. Банановая республика!

This is idiocy. I cannot find any other description for this initiative. Everything in this country is much worse  than I thought. I have the right to criticize Rahmon [Tajikistan's leader] because he is the president we have elected; he is not a king, he is just a public official. And sycophants like Beg Zukhurov have no right to tell me what I should think about people. A banana republic!

Some netizens began sending around links to anonymity networks and proxy sites, suggesting that the authorities do not have the technical capacity to monitor all Internet activity in the country.

As Andrew Katkenov writes [ru]:

Ну и чушь полная, У нас своего контента очень мало, а кто им даст доступ из вне, даже если заблокируют, то только для таджикистана, но кому нужно тот найдет выход. В период когда блокировали фейс, статистика по Alexa показала что посещения с Таджикистана снизилась всего лишь на 15%

This is nonsense. We have very little of domestic content [in the Tajik segment of Internet]. Nobody will give them access to external websites. Even if they block [some resources], the block will be effective in Tajikistan only. And people will find a way [to overcome the local block]. When they were blocking Facebook, statistics showed that the number of visits to the website from Tajikistan dropped by 15 percent only.

Mavzuna Abdurahmanova believes [ru] that the initiative will lead the authorities to block Facebook where many Tajkistanis routinely criticize the authorities:

будем ждать, мне кажется первым закроют фейсбук, тут по высказываниям довольных граждан очень мало.

Let's wait. I think Facebook will be the first to be shut down, [because] based on comments, there are not many satisfied citizens here.

The authorities blocked local access to Facebook for a short period in early March, after materials critical of the country's president were shared on the website. Then, in June, the government shut down for several days the country's main independent news website, Asia-Plus, because of reader comments considered insulting to senior government officials under a story it had published.

Interestingly, Beg Zukhurov's comments about “subversive” and “indecent” Internet users seems to echo the rhetoric used by government officials in neighboring Uzbekistan. On July 10, Uzbekistan's state television denounced social networks like Facebook and Russian-based Odnoklassniki [Classmates] as “dangerous weapons” used by the country's “enemies” to brainwash Uzbek youth. The country's nationals were encouraged to use “domestic” social networks such as the recently launched Youface.

Alexander Sodiqov has contributed to this post.

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