October 11, 2010 / 12:35 PM / 9 years ago

Sites critical of government blocked in Tajikistan

DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Internet providers in Tajikistan acting on orders from authorities barred access on Monday to websites known for carrying criticism of the Central Asian nation’ government, providers and sites said.

The move came amid a military campaign against suspected Islamic militants the government has blamed for recent attacks in the impoverished former Soviet republic bordering Afghanistan.

Internet users were unable to open several news sites including ferghana.ru and avesta.tj.

“Access to these sites has been closed at the government’s demand,” said a service specialist at Telecomm Technology, a leading internet provider, who declined to be named.

Tajik officials declined to comment on the accusation.

Recent violence has heightened government fears of a rise of militant Islamism in mostly Muslim Tajikistan, where political rivalries intertwined with religion still fester more than a decades after a 1990s civil war.

An August jailbreak by suspected Islamic militants accused of plotting to overthrow the government was followed by a deadly suicide bombing targeting police in early September.

Later last month, government forces launched a campaign against militants in a rugged area 180 km (110 miles) east of the capital where an attack on a convoy killed 28 soldiers.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a regional militant group whose members have fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, later said the attack was in retaliation for a government crackdown on Islam.

Little official information has been released about the campaign east of Dushanbe and government critics suspect authorities are not reporting all casualties.

The head of news site avesta.tj, Zafar Abdullayev, said he believed blocking access was the initiative of officials eager to “demonstrate at a time of political instability that they are taking measures to control the situation.”

Access to sites including ferghana.ru and other sites has previously been blocked ahead of elections in Tajikistan. Critics of longtime President Imomali Rakhmon claim his government exaggerates the threat of Islamic militancy as a pretext to target opponents.

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