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US urge Tajikistan to lift media, Facebook web bans.

US: The United States on Saturday urged Tajikistan to lift a ban on news websites and Facebook after the local branch of a US-funded radio also found its site blocked.

"The US Embassy is concerned with the apparent decision by the Communication Service of the Republic of Tajikistan to block access to Facebook, Radio Ozodi and other Internet news sites," the US embassy in Dushanbe said in a statement.

Radio Ozodi, the Tajik service of Radio Liberty, confirmed to AFP that Internet providers had blocked their popular website.

"The United States believes that the right of individuals to express their views freely is universal, whether exercised in a public square or on the Internet," the embassy statement said.

"We urge the government of Tajikistan to respect individual rights to freedom of expression and lift its restriction" on the banned sites, it said.

"This is censorship, clear and simple," president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Steven Korn was quoted as saying in a company statement about the blockage of its Tajik service.

"Several Internet providers in Tajikistan told Ozodi that they received SMS text messages from the Communications Service Thursday evening instructing them to block access to Ozodi," the statement said.

Several news sites, including regional portals Fergana.ru and Centrasia.ru, have been blocked in Tajikistan for months, along with Russia's state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.

About 40,000 people used Facebook in the Central Asian country when the government ordered access to it blocked this week, saying it was responding to concerns of upset citizens about "insults" and "lies" posted on the social network.

Communications service chief Beg Zukhurov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that Facebook access may be restored after unspecified technical issues are resolved.

Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia ruled by Emomali Rakhmon since 1992, will hold presidential elections next year, and many fear the authorities may further tighten control of the Internet in the coming months.

Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2012

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:9TAJI
Date:Dec 1, 2012
Words:342
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