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Tajik President Cancels Government Move To Increase Internet Rates


Tajik President Emomali Rahmon

DUSHANBE -- Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has canceled a government decision to increase Internet fees in the Central Asian country in the face of online protests.

Tajik presidential spokesman Adbufattoh Sharifzoda told RFE/RL on April 23 that Rahmon ordered the government and the Antimonopoly Service to restore the previous, lower rates for Internet services.

Earlier in the day, the presidential press service said Antimonopoly Service chief Sadi Qodirzoda had been dismissed from his duties "due to his transfer to another job."

The press service said Qodirzoda will now serve as a deputy chief of the presidential administration.

Ikromiddin Valizoda, who was deputy chief of the government's Agency for Standardization, was appointed as the new chief of the Antimonopoly Service, the press service said.

Qodizoda's removal from the post comes amid criticism of his leadership at the Antimonopoly Service, which last month ordered all Internet providers in the country to nearly double the minimum fee for Internet connections, as of April 18.

Tajik Internet users started paying at least 62 somonis ($6.50) per gigabyte. Before that, the fee was a maximum of 35 somonis per gigabyte.

The move has been criticized among Internet users across Tajikistan, one of the poorest countries in the former Soviet Union.

Activists have in the past two days been collecting signatures in support of a petition urging President Emomali Rahmon and the Prosecutor-General's Office to cancel the Antimonopoly Service decree.

One of the organizers of the campaign launched on April 22, Shahlo Ibrohimova told RFE/RL that professors at the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University in Dushanbe, questioned students on April 23, trying to learn the names of those involved.

"Teachers warned a student who was collecting signatures that she could be expelled," Ibrohimova said.

According to Ibrohimova, more than 200 people have signed the petition.

Officials have said the price hike was a "a necessary step" to take the youth "out of the virtual world back to reality."

The decision received the support of a prominent Tajik Salafist cleric, Eshoni Sirojiddin Abdurakhmonov, who called the Internet "the century’s plague" while claiming that it leads to “debauchery and adultery and provokes cheating."

Critics accuse Rahmon’s government of systematic rights abuses and censorship.

Rahmon, 66, holds titles including Founder of the Peace and National Unity of Tajikistan and Leader of the Nation, and enjoys lifelong immunity from prosecution according to a law he endorsed in December 2015.

He has been in power in Tajikistan since 1992 -- a year after the collapse of the Soviet Union.