Turkmenistan has built a strong foundation of internet censorship. Unlike the governments of other countries with similar foundations, Turkmenistan realizes that the foundation they’ve built doesn’t mean anything if they aren’t willing to back it up. Internet users in other countries with oppressive censorship use VPN services to bypass blocks and access the open internet.
The government of Turkmenistan reached a new low by weaponizing the population’s religion against them. Internet users are now made to swear on the Koran, the Muslim holy text, that they won’t circumvent blocks or censorship by using a VPN.
Turkmenistan Censors Most of the Internet
Turkmenistan is amongst the staunchest countries in terms of internet censorship. In fact, without a VPN, there’s hardly a reason to use the internet within the country. Every major social media platform and every streaming website is blocked. Online shopping is next to impossible, and every major news outlet is off-limits. If you don’t have a VPN, there’s nothing to do online.
Tech savvy members of the population introduced their friends, family, and neighbors to VPNs. Using a VPN circumvented the blocks and allowed people in Turkmenistan to access the internet in a way that people in many countries would take for granted. They could watch YouTube tutorials for DIY projects and stream their favorite movies. It hardly seems criminal.
As soon as the government became wise to the ways people were circumventing the blocks, they took steps to criminalize circumvention.
VPNs are Illegal in Turkmenistan
The government responded to people who found workarounds by making VPN use illegal within the country. If people are caught with VPNs on their devices, they can and do face jail time. It’s not entirely difficult for governments to detect who is using VPNs. Normal VPN traffic is visible to internet service providers.
They can’t see what websites are being visited, but they have enough information to know that a VPN is being used to access these websites. This makes consequences a reality for people in Turkmenistan. The government knows what to look for, and they’re making it a priority to look for it.