Tajikistan Removes Week-old Block of Facebook

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Last week we told you about Pakistan's public search for a web-censor. Now here's some more Web-freedom news from nearby Tajikistan (this time it's good).

Over the weekend, the Tajikistan government ordered the unblocking of Facebook and several news websites by the country's ISPs. This change of heart came a mere week after the Tajik Ministry of Transport and Communication instituted the ban. Among the previously blacklisted sites once again available to Tajikistan's citizens are Facebook, zvezda.ru, TJKNews, and maxala.org. Pressure from international media organizations and human rights groups were likely responsible for the blacklist's repeal.

According to news agency Asia Plus (via ZDNet, the repeal of the ban was ordered on Friday, with first Facebook and then the news sites unblocked on Saturday.

Internet access and Facebook use are still low in the former Soviet republic. Internet World Stats reports a 10.4% internet penetration rate, as of December 11 2012. Facebook penetration is at only 0.4%, with 27,200 users out of a population of more than 7.5 million. In a country so relatively new to the internet and social media, the stand for free speech and internet liberties is a particularly important one--the erosion of those liberties early in the development Tajikistan's digital development could set a tough precedent in favor of cyber censorship there.

"The shutdown [of independent news sites] was ordered because the websites were critical to the president Emomali Rakhmon," reports ZDNet's Emil Protalinski. Facebook was probably banned because of its potential for helping organize political protests, like those of last year's Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement, and Russia's ongoing anti-Putin protests. Twitter, however, was not blacklisted with other sites, though it's not clear how many users the service has in Tajikistan. While Tajikistan has a prior history of press censorship, "Article 30 of the country's constitution provides that "state censorship and prosecution for criticism are forbidden," reports the Electronic Freedom Foundation.

The unblocking of Facebook and other news sites is a huge victory for free speech not only for citizens of Tajikistan, but also for netizens the world over.

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