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Country rapped for lack of online press freedom

[Turkmenistan] Computer training centre in Balkanabat. IRIN
The centres have proven a big hit with young people
Turkmenistan, the most reclusive Central Asian state, ranks as one of the most repressive countries in the world in terms of online press freedom, restricting access to the Internet and blocking access to a very wide range of websites, international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a report issued on Wednesday. The RSF report - "The Internet under surveillance" - said the energy-rich state not only limits access to certain websites, including independent magazines, religious and human rights sites, but also restricts the public's access to the web as a source of information in a more general sense. "[In Turkmenistan] this is more a problem of accessing the Internet than a problem of censorship. The government doesn't allow the people to have [any] access to the Internet. That is the worst step to control the sources of information," Julien Pain, responsible for the RSF's Internet freedom desk, told IRIN from Paris. Pain explained that the ex-Soviet republic was using the same techniques applied in Cuba and North Korea, preventing the population from accessing the Internet as "the simplest way to control the information". Compared to its neighbours in Central Asia, Turkmenistan ranks as the most repressive country in terms of accessing the Internet and freedom of expression, with fewer than 10,000 people in a country of 6.4 million, mostly workers in foreign companies or international organisations, having access to the world wide web. "It is the worst country [in the region] in terms of freedom of expression on the Internet. We have problems in many other countries such as Uzbekistan, even in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but at least [in those other states] there are a few people who have access to the Internet...In Turkmenistan they just don't want to allow [any] access to the Internet," Pain stated. The report says that, in general, censorship of online publications is increasing and authoritarian regimes are developing more sophisticated ways of filtering the Internet. The RSF official called upon the Turkmen authorities to allow the population to have access to the Internet. "The authorities have just to open up web [access] to the population because even in the poorest country in the world people have access to the Internet, so I guess it is possible for Turkmenistan too. The reason people can't have access to the Internet is just political will. We are talking about a country whose president [Saparmurat Niyazov] is amazingly repressive," he said.
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