A gag on free information

Independent news sites and major social networks blocked following recent hike in online criticism of the regime. Videos showing the night-time queues for bread blocked. Internet access only for political leaders and members of the presidential family.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Turkmen capital Ashgabat has recently been without internet for several hours. The cause lies in the new attempts of the authorities to block independent sources of information. Not only the private connections, but also in the buildings of the public administration, with few phones and mobile devices able to connect.

The state media purposely omitted the information that the authorities would block the network for hours starting from November 22, and the company Turkmentelekom – the only internet provider in Turkmenistan – did not release any notice. The network suspensions lasted from early morning until 2pm, but after the connection was resumed it was discovered that most of the Vpn (virtual private networks) servers had been blocked.

Independent information networks in Turkmenistan are totally suspended, as Radio Azatlyk says, and also the sites of the main social networks. International organizations criticize the censorship, but Turkmen security bodies in recent months have continuously increased the pressure on all network operators, trying to block applications from being downloaded on phones.

In fact, in recent times on social networks and on the web in general criticism of the government, and especially of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has increased, mocking him as “Arkadag” (Protector of the Nation). The internet connection was already very slow, so much so that it was considered the slowest in the world.

 Azatlyk had recently reported on the decision of various Turkmen courts, which had forbidden the use of internet to some categories of citizens. In the velayat (province) of Lebapa authorities imposed the ban on 20 entrepreneurs who were engaged in photo and video services at weddings and parties of all kinds. In early November officials in the capital had forced high school teachers to sign a pledge not to use social media, and not to connect with the internet.

Law enforcement officials arrested dozens of people in Mari over the release of a video in which a group of Turkmen citizens questioned a man in a police uniform. In the video the man is accused of having illegally entered a private apartment in the nearby village of Tagtabar, in an obvious state of drunkenness, in order to rape the landlady. Also in this case it was decided to ban the use of the network, as well as those who filmed the queues for bread in the nights of the capital and other cities in the country.

Berdymukhamedov had, moreover, charged Turkmentelekom to adapt to the most updated standards the mobile network of the state telecommunications, entrusted to the company Altyn Asyr. The only connections that work in Turkmenistan are those of political leaders and members of the presidential family.

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