Turkmenistan, one of the most isolated and repressive countries in the world, has blocked access to IMO, the last instant-messaging app that was still functioning in the country. IMO became inaccessible in Turkmenistan in early August 2023, leaving its citizens with no means of communicating with the outside world via social media or messaging apps.
Turkmenistan has long been known for its strict internet censorship and information control policies. The country ranks at the bottom of the Freedom in the World Index and is listed as an enemy of the Internet by Reporters without Borders. The authorities have blocked all other popular messaging apps and social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others. They also restrict access to independent and foreign media outlets that cover Turkmenistan. The internet speed in Turkmenistan is the slowest in the world, making it difficult for users to access websites or use VPNs to bypass censorship.
The blocking of IMO is seen as a further attempt by the authoritarian government of President Serdar Berdymuhamedov to isolate its people from the rest of the world and prevent any dissent or criticism of his rule. Berdymuhamedov has been in power since 2021, following the death of his father, Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled Turkmenistan since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Both leaders have created a personality cult around themselves and suppressed any opposition or human rights activism.
The situation in Turkmenistan has drawn international condemnation and calls for action from various organizations and governments.
The people of Turkmenistan are left with few options to communicate with their friends and relatives abroad or access uncensored information online. Some still use email, which is still accessible via smartphones, but it is not clear how long it will remain so. Others rely on satellite phones or smuggled SIM cards from neighboring countries, but these are expensive and risky. The majority of Turkmenistan’s population of 6 million remains cut off from the world and unaware of what is happening inside or outside their country.