DUSHANBE -- Foreign diplomats have called on Tajikistan's authorities to allow open access to the Internet across the Central Asian country.
Speaking to journalists in Dushanbe at an event devoted to World Press Freedom Day on May 3, U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan John Mark Pommersheim said the Internet was a forum allowing citizens a place to exchange ideas.
"We are for the open access to the Internet, in principle. The blockage of the Internet and the absence of the access to it affects among other things, the economic development.... Also, the Internet is necessary to provide people with opportunity to speak up, which is very important as well. People must have a place to openly exchange ideas," Pommersheim said.
Stating that "freedom of expression is vital for development of the society," Pommersheim also said Tajik government security measures, including combating terrorism, "must not be a reason for shutting down websites and social networks."
Speaking at the same event, British Ambassador to Tajikistan Hugh Philpot criticized the current blocking of several social networks in Tajikistan that started last week.
Philpott said government efforts to deny access to websites would ultimately fail, as Internet users would find ways around them.
Echoing the sentiments of the two diplomats, Nils Jansons, a political officer at the EU delegation to Tajikistan, said unrestricted Internet access would help to foster unity in Tajikistan.
The Tajik government has been criticized for years for periodically blocking social networks and websites.
In December, the embassies of Britain, Germany, France, the United States, and the EU delegation in Dushanbe urged the Tajik government to "provide for press freedom in accordance with Tajikistan’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."