07/28/2008, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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"Scientific" internet censorship by Uzbek government

All websites must pass through the network of a little-known company, which mirrors them. The exhaustive control even extends to the internet cafes. The unusual protest of some websites.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Uzbek government is practicing "scientific" control over the internet, censoring the websites it doesn't like, but also monitoring anyone who accesses the web over a personal computer, or even at an internet cafe.

Deputy prime minister Abdullah Aripov is also director general of the Uzbek agency for communications and information (UzASCI), which is in charge of public telephone companies.

Rafal Rohonzonski, an investigator for the OpenNet Initiative, explains to the news agency EurasiaNet that "there is a requirement that all ISPs use lines provided by UzPAK to connect to the internet". UzPAK is a little-known state-owned company. "Several ISPs operate their own satellite dishes", he says, "but these dishes have to be located on property owned by UzInfoCom, a wholly owned subsidiary of UzASCI. The physical connection between their satellite dish, which is on property owned by UzInfoCom, and wherever the ISP is located has to be passed through channels which are owned by UzPAK". “Each channel that goes through UzPAK can be duplicated, so normal traffic looks likes it's going back and forth, but it's actually being recorded by the security forces".

The tight control over the internet began in 2005, after the massacre in Andijan, where the army is accused of firing on peaceful demonstrators, killing hundreds of them (in the photo). Tashkent has always rejected any international investigation, and has blocked news via the internet. Since then, many websites have been blocked, and careful, systematic control has been put in place.

The authorities can identify those who connect to "prohibited" sites, and Rohozonski tells about what happened to a colleague who "went into a cyber café in Tashkent and tried to get on to a blocked website. He could get on to the first page but when he went to click through it just wouldn't load, so after about five minutes of trying he went to leave. But the person who was running the internet café was being very coy and not wanting to let him go. Within five minutes a non-uniformed member of the security forces came and started interrogating him, 'why were you looking at this, why were you trying to get to it?' Fortunately, our colleague had a diplomatic passport, he got off. But it is clear there was collusion between the owner of the cafe and the local security forces".

Now many independent local websites have closed down or are operating from abroad, especially those that provide local information as an alternative to the "official" sites; many leading news sites like the BBC are censored, as are sites for the exchange of news.

Out of protest, some of the Uzbek websites that must operate from abroad have a design on the home page that looks like a passport stamp, reading: "This site is blocked in Uzbekistan". It is a campaign to remind everyone of the situation in the country.

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