Tajik officials are heavy-handed in their regulation of the Internet, regularly blocking websites that publish critical content. Social media suffers the same fate — both YouTube and Facebook have been blocked several times in recent years. On July 9, YouTube was blocked once more, and remains blocked. But recently, one of the most popular social networks in country, Odnoklassniki, was blocked for the first time.
Odnoklassniki is a Russian social network, in which more than 300,000 citizens of Tajikistan are registered. (By way of comparison, there are only 60,000 registered profiles on Facebook from the Central Asian state). Many Tajiks use Odnoklassniki to connect with their families working as labour migrants in Russia. On July 18, some users of the website discovered access was blocked. Later some Internet Service Providers confirmed that they had blocked access, but didn't say why.
Asomiddin Atoev, the chairman of Tajikistan's Association of Internet Service Providers, told the press that providers block sites when they have orders from the state Communications Service, and that nowadays these orders take an oral form. However, representatives of the service, headed by the unpopular Beg Sabur, deny involvement in the blocking.
While the reasons for the blocking aren't clear yet, experts and netizens believe it is connected with the activity of oppositionists and, possibly, Islamic radicals. Odnoklassniki user Mahmuddzhon Ismail told Radio Ozodi, the Tajik branch of Radio Free Europe:
Ҷавонони тоҷик, ки дар Сурия ҳастанд, наворҳои худро дар ин ҷо нашр мекарданд. Тамоми гурӯҳҳои ифротӣ бо забони тоҷики фикру ақидаҳои худро дар «Одноклассники» нашр мекунанд. Аз вақте, ки Ютюб баста шуд, дигар ҳама аз ин ҷо истифода мекарданд. Ин ҷавонони ифротӣ бисёр ҳарфҳои нохуб мегуфтанд, ки фикр мекунам, ки ба дигар ҷавонон бетаъсир набуд. Тахмин мекунам, ки ба ҳамин хотир ин шабака маҳдуд шудааст.
Guys from Tajikistan who are fighting in Syria post their videos on this site. All extremist groups use this network to propagate their ideas in Tajik language. As soon as YouTube was closed, they moved over to Odnoklassniki. I think they influenced many young people. This I believe, is the reason for blocking the site.
In the past, the Tajik government has had plenty of more self-serving reasons to block social networking and video-sharing websites, including President Emomali Rahmon's vocal performance at his son's wedding, which led to a YouTube block, and the persistent thorn in its side that is Platforma, a Facebook group with over 15,000 followers that criticizes the government and promotes opposition leaders.
But until recently, Odnoklassniki was not regarded as an opposition mouthpiece. One user, Mihalich, took the block very emotionally:
В чём [Зло Одноклассников]?? В общении с друзьями по всему миру,возможность смотреть фото друзей и т.д, в этом зло)))))??? Всё правильно,нужно как и раньше ходить на почту отправлять телеграмму и ждать ответ или письмо месяц))))))) И далой скайп!!!! На фиг это лёгкое общение,вернёмся к голубиной почте!!!!!
What [is Odnoklassniki's evil]?? In communication with friends all over the world, in the possibility of viewing friend's photos and so on – is there evil in this)))))??? Alright, you have to now go to a post office as before, send a telegram and wait a month for an answer))))))) And down with Skype! For what do we need this easy communication? Let's return to pigeon-mail!!!!!
Others, like Bekor, muse on a now long-standing tradition of website-blocking in Tajikistan, and what that tradition says about the government:
Маразм крепчает. Как только что случится- интернет блокировать. Страна под пятой идиотизма
Insanity grows stronger. Once something happens, the Internet is blocked. The country is under the heel of idiocy
Dilovar jokes bitterly:
В Таджикистане в 2015 году заблокируют и отключат всех людей
In 2015, in Tajikistan, they will block and shut down all people
Some netizens, like Islom, believe the blocking is a senseless strategy:
можно зайти на одноклассники через обходные пути, почти 75% населения знают как. Нету смысла закрыт сайт через провайдеров.
You can work around the block and visit Odnoklassniki, and nearly 75% of the [Internet-using] population knows how to do this. There is no sense in providers blocking websites.
Sergey_I, meanwhile, compares Odnoklassniki with alcohol:
одноклассники – это зло. Но это как алкоголь, сигареты и прочее, вредные привычки
Odnoklassniki is evil. in the same way as alcohol, cigarettes and other pernicous habits are.
Jagonhir from Dushanbe, like many others, complains of the “obscene” information, one can find on Odnoklassniki:
очень хорошо что закрыли доступ к сайту оно отнимает очень много времени и там очень много пошлого
It's very good that they blocked access to the site, it is very time-consuming and there is a lot of vulgarity there
But many go further and write that Odnoklassniki is a public threat and a potential agent of revolution:
Очень хорошо что вы закрыли эти сайты через них люди портятся и наши дети ,экстремисты пользуясь этим служат всяким иностраным провакаторам чтобы они имели у нас своих агентов вербуя через интернет ресурсы ,мне как жителю родного таджикистана не нужны всякие сатанинские арабские революции
It’ very good that you have blocked these sites, they spoil our people and our children, extremists use them to serve foreign provocateurs who have their agents among us, recruited via means of the Internet. I, as a citizen of my dear Tajikistan, don't need any satanic Arab revolutions
Some netizens also appreciate the timing of the block, since currently it is Ramadan, the Islamic holy month:
Это разумный поступок тем более во время священного месяца Рамазан. Лучше всего думать о безопасности наших детей и родных.
It is a reasonable action especially during the holy month of Ramadan. It is better to think of the security of our children and family.
Thanks Anna for this post, we get very similar responses regarding legal attempts to block sites here in Egypt.
I think the blocking of Odnoklassniki and the charges against Alexander Sodiqov are related. It is also sad that Alex, who always reported about internet restrictions in Tajikistan, is now not allowed to offer his opinion about what is going on.