Turkmen leader orders more control over already limited internet

Turkmenistan’s strongman leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov demanded his government tighten control of the internet, state media reported Thursday, raising the prospect of further curbs in one of the world’s least connected countries.

Berdymukhamedov’s call comes after neighbouring Kazakhstan began the New Year with bloody clashes that roiled the ruling elite and as Turkmenistan lays the ground for a potential political succession. 

“(We) need to control the internet,” Berdymukhamedov, 64, said at a meeting of the state security council on Wednesday, state television showed on Thursday.

“It is necessary to identify and limit the work of Internet sources on the territory of our country that disseminate information that is harmful to the constitutional order of our state,” Berdymukhamedov added in a directive to the security ministry.

He singled out resources that promoted “terrorism, extremism, nationalism and other illegal acts” for censorship. 

An AFP correspondent reported that the internet was not working for most of Thursday.

Turkmenistan is one of the least free countries in the world, while head of state Berdymukhamedov enjoys a leadership cult that draws frequent comparisons to North Korea.

Social media and instant messenger services like Whatsapp and Telegram are blocked inside the gas-rich former Soviet state and the government has waged a war against VPNs in recent years.

Berdymukhamedov’s son, Serdar, 40, has rapidly risen to the top of the government and now oversees much of the economy, sparking speculation of an imminent hereditary succession. 

In Kazakhstan, long-reigning Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, chose to pass on the torch to a protege, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 68, rather than one of his three known children.

But Kazakh presidents, former and current, appear to have endured a split after Tokayev strongly criticised Nazarbayev’s reign in a Tuesday speech that followed violent clashes and looting which left dozens dead. 

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