Access decries SMS blocking and online repression in Tajikistan

As of today, Oct. 10, SMS services are being blocked in Tajikistan.

Though Tajik authorities deny responsibility for any blocking or disruptions, many observers say the government is attempting to thwart a planned rally by Group 24, an opposition organization labeled extremist by the Tajik Supreme Court.

“The Tajik government must end this gross violation of human rights online, which began with blocked websites and has grown to include person-to-person communications,” said Peter Micek, Senior Policy Counsel at Access. “This systematic blocking of information and expression, which we’ve seen during protests in Central African Republic, Thailand, and now in Tajikistan, isolates communities and blocks access to emergency services — putting ordinary users at great risk of physical harm.”

Since last weekend, various websites and platforms, including Facebook, Amazon, Russian social networks, and the Russian version of Wikipedia, have been blocked in Tajikistan. Today, the telecom company TeliaSonera, majority owner of Tajikistan’s Tcell, announced that SMS services, too, have been affected. Other telcos are publicly acknowledging “technical problems.”

“Companies operating in Tajikistan must be loud and clear about why this blocking is taking place, and how it impacts their customers and businesses,” Micek continued. “Companies have ways to get around government threats or bars on transparency. Now is the time to escalate oversight and join together with others in the Tajik business community to push back against government requests that would violate human rights.

“In addition, we call on the Tajik government to come clean about its blocking scheme — and to put an end to it immediately.”

Access will continue to monitor events in Tajikistan in contact with our partners in the region.