DUSHANBE — Tajikistan has ordered local Internet providers to block access to three leading regional news websites amid growing Islamist unrest in the east of the country, sources said on Monday.
Sources within local Internet providers and the newsites told AFP that the Tajik authorities had issued a directive to block the sites, in a move possibly linked to official criticism of local media coverage of the unrest.
Tajikistan, which endured a bitter civil war after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is facing its worst Islamist unrest in years which saw 28 soldiers killed in an ambush on a military convoy in September.
"We have a written order from the authorities about closing access to these sites," an employee of one Internet provider said, asking not to be named.
"This is a restriction on freedom of speech. We are trying to objectively report on the unrest in the east but clearly some officials do not like this" said Avesta's chief editor Zafar Abdullayev.
The move comes after Tajik Defence Minister General Sherali Khairullayev accused local media at the start of the month of supporting the Islamist militants.
He said that journalists' coverage had been one-sided and focused solely on alleged shortcomings of the armed forces. "They do not ask who has carried out a act of terror, on whose orders," he complained.
Tajikistan is a majority-Muslim country and the poorest state to emerge from the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly two decades ago.
The mountains around the Rasht Valley where the unrest is concentrated were a favoured hideout for Islamist militants opposing the Dushanbe government at the start of the civil war and the region still has a reputation for strong religious conservatism.
The current unrest appears to have gained momentum after the escape of 25 militants from a prison in a brazen nighttime getaway in August.
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