Authorities in Tajikistan have blocked access to Facebook for the second time this year, saying citizens are too tired of the “mud and slander” emanating from the site, according to Reuters. The blockade is one of several measures seen as aimed at dampening public dissent as the country looks ahead to a presidential election in 2013.
In a 27 November press conference, Office of Telecommunications head Beg Zukhurov said his office had instituted the blanket ban because of too much criticism of the country’s leadership.
“I received many calls from citizens of Tajikistan asking me to shut down this Facebook as a hotbed of slander,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog. “Unknown people there insult the leaders of the state. They are apparently being paid well for that.”
But many see the move to cut access to Facebook as sign that officials are growing concerned about a rise in public criticism of authoritarian President Imomali Rahmon. ”We can expect to see more steps to restrict freedom of speech on the Internet, as the authorities have made no secret of the fact they see a real threat in social networking sites,” one political analyst in Dushanbe told Reuters.
This most recent Facebook block comes months after the government set up a public volunteer organization to monitor the Internet for cases of profanity, insult, or libel. Previously, Facebook was blacked out in March, along with several news sites after an article critical of Rahmon circulated on the social network. Authorities again blocked accessto several news sites as well as YouTube – though not Facebook – after the military clashed with rebel forces in July.
There are only about 41,000 Facebook users in the country of 7 million, or just more than half a percent of the population. But the site has also exploded in the past year and a half, Reuters reports.