Cyber-censorship in Central Asia a growing concern

Dec 1, 2011
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The Internet has never been very free in Central Asia, but recent crackdowns in the region have watchdogs worried the situation is actually deteriorating.

report released this month by an international collection of human-rights groups looks at Internet control and censorship in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – especially in light of how these countries use threats of terrorism and religious extremism to justify tightening their grip on the Internet.

According to the report, the situation is worst in Turkmenistan, where Internet use is at a paltry 2.3 percent and the state-run Internet provider allows access to a small fraction of all Internet websites, effectively sealing off the country. The authors of the report accuse the authorities of trying to track down suspected citizen journalists who use cell phones or social media to tell their story. The report also mentions a recent initiative to have private satellite dishes dismantled.

Things are not much better in the two other countries surveyed. In Uzbekistan, for example, the government created a social networking site to keep people away from Facebook (where it’s harder to monitor netizens’ actions). Authorities also routinely monitor phone and email conversations of people they consider “suspicious.” In Kazakhstan, which has proclaimed its commitment to IT growth, officials have a list of more than 100 websites they have blocked because of “extremist propaganda.”  One is the popular blogging platform, Live Journal.

The report stresses the need for increased international leverage on the region’s authorities to improve the situation for free speech and new technologies and calls on international organizations to promote Internet access and the use of social media in the region.

 Those responsible for the report include the International Partnership for Human Rights, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, and the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan.

In a somewhat related theme, the Institute with War and Peace Reporting published an interesting interview on the subject of Internet freedom in Turkmenistan with Vyacheslav Mamedov of the Democratic Civil Union of Turkmenistan. Mamedov adds more perspective on the situation: 

“The lack of access to information is a matter of concern everyone in Turkmenistan. It’s impossible to live in another dimension, to endure this enforced isolation forever. People are entirely cut off from the outside world, they are missing out on technological and cultural developments, they cannot get hold of independently-sourced information, and cannot communicate properly with friends and relatives who have left the country.”

Map of Obstacles to the Free Flow of Information Online from Wikimedia Commons


About the Author

Transitions Online

Transitions Online (www.tol.org) is an Internet magazine that covers political, social, cultural, and economic issues in the former communist countries of Europe and Central Asia. The magazine has a strong network of local contributors, who provide valuable insight into events in the region’s 29 countries.
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