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Tajik Authorities Seek Tighter Control Over Internet Traffic

People using wireless internet in public bus.
People using wireless internet in public bus.

DUSHANBE -- Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has signed a bill on the creation of a central communications hub in the former Soviet republic, a move critics say is meant to tighten government control over the Internet and cellular communications.

The law endorsed by Rahmon on January 25 will require all mobile operators and Internet providers to provide their services to clients only via the Single Communication Nexus, which is to be established by the state Telecom Company.

Officials have said the hub is needed to improve "national and information security."

Some industry representatives and government critics are opposed to the law.

They say it will give the state, which has repeatedly taken steps to mute criticism or silence calls on the Internet for street protests, more power to rein in free speech.

The chairwoman of the Tajik Internet Providers Association, Parvina Ibodova, said the communications hub would make it easier for the government to shut down websites.

She also said it that creating a single hub for all Internet traffic could weaken security, not strengthen it.

"If there is a hacker attack on one network, the whole country will be affected," Ibodova said.

Industry representatives also expressed concern that monopolizing communications services could worsen their quality.

Rahmon signed the bill two months after lawmakers passed legislation allowing the authorities to block the Internet and telephone system during "counterterrorism operations" in the Central Asian state.

Access to a number of social-networking and news sites -- including Facebook, Twitter, and RFE/RL's Tajik-language and Russian-language websites -- has been disrupted several times since 2013.

Many Internet users believe the government was behind the outages, though it has denied involvement and blamed technical problems.

Restricted access to the Internet resources was reported on days when opposition groups planned rallies or when security forces were involved in operations against alleged terrorists.

U.S. and EU officials have raised concerns both over restrictions of access to the Internet as a whole and blockage of the Internet and over blockage of access to individual sites.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Current Time Asia

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