Tajik mobile phone operators have shut down their SMS services as the country's authorities brace for a possible opposition rally in Dushanbe on Friday, sources in these companies told Interfax.
The authorities have been taking all necessary measures to stop the opposition Group 24, which was recognized as an extremist organization by the Tajik Supreme Court on Thursday, from staging this illegal rally.
"Yesterday we received an instruction from the Communications Service to shut down our SMS services pending further notice. We did as we were told. No explanations were given to us. We do not know for how long this measure may stay in force," a representative of a Tajik cell phone operator's management said on condition of anonymity.
The support services of these companies have officially explained these steps by "technical problems."
Among other measures, the Tajik authorities have set up checkpoints and have deployed armored hardware on all roads leading to the country's capital Dushanbe. There is a large police presence on all central streets of the city. Armed Forces servicemen holding weapons can be seen as well.
Calls for joining a rally in Dushanbe in the afternoon on October 10, i.e. immediately after the Friday prayer, appeared in a number of Tajik social media on October 3. The rally's title indicated in the posts is 'Tajikistan Demands Change' and the slogans proposed are 'Tajikistan Without Rahmon', 'For Fair Elections' and 'For Decent Life'.
President Emomali Rahmon, who has been ruling Tajikistan for the past 22 years, is currently outside the country. He left for Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Thursday to attend a CIS summit.
Some experts suggested these very calls prompted Tajik mobile operators and Internet providers to block access to more than 200 websites, among them Facebook, VKontakte, YouTube, some Russian news portals, the Russian version of Wikipedia, the U.S. online store Amazon, and dozens of proxy servers.
The Sughd region, located in northern Tajikistan, has been cut off the Internet completely. Local administration sources have called this measure "a test of the technical possibilities of Internet disconnection in the event of an escalation of violence."
The rally is being organized by Group 24 set up by Tajik businessman Umarali Kuvvatov who went into politics after leaving for the United Arab Emirates. Kuvvatov is a practically unknown politician in his home country. According to a joke circulating among journalistic community, there will be only journalists and no demonstrators at the square on October 10. The calls for the rally met with cold reaction among ordinary Tajiks who instantly drew parallels with 1992 rallies in Dushanbe which led to the five-year civil war.
The Tajik Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Group 24 is an extremist organization. Its website will now be officially blocked and any audio-, video- and printed material of the Group will be banned in the republic.
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