Internet Paranoia in Turkmenistan
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||29 July 2011|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Internet Paranoia in Turkmenistan, 29 July 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e3911ab2.html [accessed 23 May 2013]|
After web users in Turkmenistan broke news of a major fire to the outside world, the country's intelligence and police services have reacted by trying to hunt down those who dared to make their voices heard.
An ammunition dump in Abadan, near the capital Ashgabat, blew up on July 7 and caused a large fire in the town, forcing the authorities to evacuate the population. The government-controlled media ignored the accident, but mobile phone users and bloggers took pictures and sent information and images to websites and media outlets abroad. (See Web Users Evade Controls To Report Turkmen Blast.) State media were then forced to give a partial account of the blast.
A few days later, the National Security Ministry or MNB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs started tracking down those behind the information leak.
A police officer said checks were being run on everyone with a mobile phone subscription and web access through the national provider company Altyn Asyr.
"The search targeted one Serdar Ayakov, who passed information to the [Moscow-based] Ekho Moskvy radio station, and anyone who had filmed the event on their mobile phones," the officer said.
Aware of the risks, Abadan residents began deleting any data on their phones that might get them into trouble.
Seitnazar, who has two teenage children, said plainclothes officers had visited neighbours and confiscated phones and cameras from young people in each household.
They are now afraid what will happen images are matched to pictures published on the internet, he said, adding, "If their worst fears come true, these young people could face imprisonment and their parents will have problems at work.
Freelance journalist Dovletmyrat Yazgulyev, who posted pictures and reports of the fire on his blog on the website of the Turkmen service of RFE/RL, was summoned by the regional police department for organised crime a week later.
"I was given an official warning and told that if I did anything similar again, I would be prosecuted under articles 132 and 177 of the criminal code – for "dissemination of defamatory information in the media", and "incitement on social, religious or ethnic grounds', respectively – and sent to prison for five years," Yazgulyev said in an interview for RFE/RL.
Despite such measures, a commentator in Ashgabat said people appeared to have been emboldened by the obvious effects of citizen journalism in Abadan.
"People say they're no longer afraid of anything because of the internet," he said. "If it hadn't been for a courageous group of web users, the authorities wouldn't have worked quickly to deal with the aftermath of the explosion. The internet meant they were unable to cover this tragedy up."
This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.