Kazakhstan internet

#KeepItOn: Turkmenistan rips a page from the authoritarian playbook, digitally disconnects nation

Barely a month after Turkmenistan’s President, Serdar Berdimuhamedow, came into office — amidst international criticism that the election was neither fair nor free — the new leader is plunging the country’s six million people into a complete informational vacuum. The international community must learn from recent history, and fight this move snatched directly from the authoritarian playbook.

Due to the nature of internet shutdowns, information on the country’s most recent blackout is scant, but Cloudflare Radar registered a significant drop in internet traffic beginning on Sunday, April 10. To date, people in Turkmenistan remain cutoff.

“We cannot abandon the internet as a mere toy to be played with in the hands of dictators,” said Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Regional Outreach Coordinator (Eastern Europe & Central Asia) at Access Now. “As the international community, we have a responsibility to ensure that people in Turkmenistan — and in all countries across the region — have access to free, open, and secure internet to fight government disinformation and propaganda, and to resist authoritarianism.”   

Turkmenistan has a long history of internet shutdowns, and online restrictions have escalated over recent years. The nation currently does not have access to social media platforms, independent news outlets, or websites that are critical of the government.

“Internet shutdowns that take place during political shifts are no coincidence,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now. “They are deliberate attempts to prevent populations from accessing the truth or organizing resistance, and to hide attacks on democracy from the world. We watched this dangerous game play out in other nations, and today stand with the people of Turkmenistan in a call for authorities to #KeepItOn.”

In March, 2022, a one-hour internet outage was reported in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital, that coincided with preparations for the inauguration of Serdar Berdimuhamedow, and in an attempt to eliminate circumvention tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs) authorities have blocked several hosting providers. These blockings can cause significant collateral damage as they take many websites down with them. 

Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition are calling for a complete restoration of the internet across Turkmenistan, and the assurance of open, accessible, and fair internet. The coalition urges authorities to stop imposing internet shutdowns and other repressive acts to suppress the fundamental rights of the people of Turkmenistan.