Internet censorship eased as EU Council chief visits Tajikistan

Tusk with veteran Tajik leader Emomali Rakhmon in Dushanbe on 30 May 2019. [Council newsroom]

Ex-Soviet Tajikistan appeared to unblock several popular websites and Google services during European Council President Donald Tusk’s visit to the country as part of a regional tour Thursday.

Tusk was holding talks with veteran Tajik leader Emomali Rakhmon Thursday (30 May) ahead of visits to two other ex-Soviet Central Asian countries — Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Internet users had previously reported problems using a number of popular news websites, Facebook, YouTube and Google services.

Google services became inaccessible shortly after a prison riot this month that left 35 people dead including 19 prisoners that authorities claimed were members of the Islamic State group.

Facebook and YouTube had been inaccessible throughout the month prior to Tusk’s arrival according to Tajik users, who regularly have to resort to circumvention tools to use the two websites.

But all of these online resources were working on Thursday according to users of two top Tajik internet providers.

Users also reported that the popular local service of Radio Free Europe had become accessible after a period where it had appeared to be blocked.

The Reporters Without Borders watchdog in April called for the government to cease blocking websites, citing a five-month long block on Asia Plus, one of the few independent news websites.

Asia Plus remained inaccessible during Tusk’s visit according to internet users.

Tajikistan’s government rarely admits to blocking websites but made headlines in 2013 when YouTube became inaccessible shortly after a video surfaced of Rakhmon singing and dancing at his son’s wedding.

Tusk is expected to visit both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on Friday for talks with leaders of the two countries.

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