The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Tajik authorities to investigate the “apparently targeted disruption” of the embattled independent news agency’s websites and to help ensure they are accessible.
The New York-based media-freedom watchdog made the call on September 10 after Dushanbe-based media group Asia-Plus reported that its main websites and business e-mails had stopped working since August 19, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberation (RFE/RL) report.
Tech experts have told RFE/RL that the domain-name records for News.tj and the popular Asiaplus.tj had been deliberately misconfigured to disrupt access, which could potentially result from an error or cyberattack.
However, the national domain registry has yet to investigate complaints from Asia-Plus and Eastera, the private hosting provider that manages the domains.
The .tj domain is administered by the Communications Service under President Emomali Rahmon’s administration, which has denied responsibility for the disruptions.
Following the outage, the agency changed its e-mail addresses and continued to publish via the Asiaplustj.info website, as well as its Facebook page and Telegram channel.
Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator, said in a statement that the disruption of Asia-Plus’s websites and the failure to restore service “is cause for concern given Tajikistan’s poor press-freedom record.”
The authorities “should investigate the problem and help ensure the website is accessible, so the public can get much-needed news and information,” Said added.
Operating since April 1996, Asia-Plus — Tajikistan’s most popular news website, with content published in Tajik, Russian, and English — had previously been blocked for periods ranging from a few days to several months.
Websites and social media are frequently subject to censorship in Tajikistan, where journalists face “persecution” for their critical reporting, the CPJ’s statement said.
The country is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders 2019 World Press Freedom Index.