The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called for authorities in Tajikistan to unblock access to YouTube to ensure the free flow of information. In the last two weeks, Tajik authorities blocked the file-sharing website as well as foreign and independent news websites after deadly clashes between security forces and armed rebels in an eastern autonomous region of the Central Asian republic.
Users believe the censorship is directly related to uploaded videos of a protest against the deadly violence near the city of Khorog, where numerous civilians have been killed. According to The Epoch Times, the city is home to an ethnic minority that has been embroiled in tensions with the central government since the post-Soviet civil war in the 1990s. These tensions escalated when the head of the regional security services was murdered in June, resulting in swift retaliation by the Tajik government against militants and civilians in the region. According to Russia’s RIA Novosti service, about 30 militants were killed by security forces. While authorities reported no casualties among civilians, “opposition media reported that some 30 civilians were killed.”
Residents of the city held a protest on July 23, “demanding an end to the bloodshed in the mountainous region.” Video of that protest was posted on YouTube, which was then blocked by Internet service providers at the behest of authorities. Other websites that were blocked include the Russian version of BBC, Russian TV channel Vesti, RIA Novosti and Asia Plus, a Tajik independent news service. Access to Asia Plus was later restored.
The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement that “only courts should be allowed to decide whether websites can be blocked, not authorities. She said blocking deprives citizens of their right to know, to receive, and impart information about development in their own country.” A recent study from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism concluded that YouTube has emerged as a major platform for news, especially during major events.