Staunton, Dec. 4 – These days, one of the first steps officials in the post-Soviet states take when there is unrest is to shut down access to the Internet which so often plays a key role in organizing protests. That stratagem sometimes works, but few pay much attention that it has other consequences as well, many of them far from positive.
When the Pamiri peoples in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast of Tajikistan went into the streets to protest the extra-judicial murder of one of their leaders, one of the first things Dushanbe did was to shut down internet service in the region, virtually cutting it off from the outside world (fergana.agency/news/124122/).
Not only did that mean that websites and bloggers could not play a role in keeping the protests going and that the rest of the world could know little about and thus offer little support for them, but it meant that students in Pamiri schools suffered in that they could not continue many of their classes and could not apply to universities elsewhere, including in Russia.
Parents and activists in response have sent an open letter to senior Russian officials asking them to intervene and restore Internet service. “Children who have expressed a desire to enroll in Russian higher educational institutions,” they say, “have been deprived of the chance to submit documents online” (facebook.com/pamirdailynews04/posts/6649698335101438).
“Many parents,” the letter complains, “for financial reasons are not in a position to travel 1200 km from Khorog, the administrative center of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast to Dushanbe and back with their children [in order to submit documents].” As a result, they are effectively excluded from this chance for higher education and a better life.
Khorog officials say that Internet service is being restored, but as of today, activists counter, it has been restored only in government institutions and remains inaccessible to the population at large. This may seem a small thing, but it is an indication of how critical the Internet has become far from major cities and how shutting it down is a human rights concern.