Turkmen president demands internet access for all

By bne IntelliNews February 24, 2014

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Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, dubbed an "enemy of the internet", has called for the internet to be made available to all citizens.

At a government meeting on February 22, Berdymukhaemdov told ministers to ensure that all 5.1m citizens of the country were able to access the internet. Ashgabat has already launched a programme to develop the communications sector, which includes modernisation of internet connections to be carried out by 2016.

The deputy chairman of the cabinet, Satlyk Satlykov, told the meeting that under the programme 60 automatic telephone exchanges and 63,264 telephone points will be put into operation. Of those new facilities, 26,944 will be connected to internet services. Turkmenistan is also planning to launch its first satellite in cooperation with France's Thales Alenia Space by the end of this year.

However, while the government is investing into modern communications technology, it remains one of the most authoritarian in the world. Few people are currently able to use the internet, and access to independent news sites and international media is blocked. While the population should soon be able to get online then, it remains unclear if that access will be unfettered.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RWB), which includes Turkmenistan in its list of "enemies of the internet," only 2.2% of Turkmens have internet access. "Turkmenistan, one of the countries most hostile to freedom of expression, is still technologically and financially blocking the growth of the internet and imposing drastic censorship, resulting in a "Turkmenet" purged of any political or social topic," the NGO wrote earlier this month.

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