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Tajik Officials Reverse Ban Against Mobile Phone Ads

DUSHANBE -- Tajik industry and government officials say a government ban on mobile phone advertising in Dushanbe has been suspended, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Ghaffor Erkaev, head of the Association of Tajik Mobile Communication Companies, told RFE/RL on May 11 that Dushanbe officials have reversed their previous decision to remove advertisements for mobile phones from billboards in the Tajik capital.

Shuhrat Nematboev, the deputy head of Tajikistan's State Committee on Investments, told RFE/RL that the decision by the Dushanbe Mayor's Office to remove the billboards was hurting mobile phone companies' business and had "spoiled their work environment."

He said state lawyers are checking the legality of the billboard ban. Meanwhile, billboard advertisements for mobile phones are being restored in Dushanbe and the surrounding areas.

Erkaev said some officials misunderstood Tajik President Emomali Rahmon's message when he spoke against the excessive use of mobile phones during his annual address to parliament last month. Rahmon said Tajikistan, with a population of 7 million, had 6 million mobile phone numbers.

He added that the annual profit of mobile companies is more than 1.4 billion somoni ($320 million), most of which, he said, goes to foreign companies. Rahmon also instructed Health Minister Nusratullo Salimov to start a television campaign explaining what Rahmon said was the "physical harm" mobile phones cause, especially to children.

Marina Rozhkina, a spokeswoman for the Russian-owned mobile phone company Bee-line, told RFE/RL in Dushanbe that mobile phone companies pay their taxes and have an active role in donating to charities and sponsoring sports teams.

Other major mobile phone operators in Tajikistan include the Tajik-American Babilon Mobile, Tajik-Russian company MLT, and Chinese-owned TK Mobile. The Indigo mobile phone company recently changed its name to TSL and sold 40 percent of its shares to the Agha Khan Foundation, with the rest being held by the Scandinavian company Telia Sonera.

Rahmon also criticized mobile phones during his annual address last year and told the Education Ministry to ban mobile phones from schools and universities.