A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
Tajikistan's parliament has approved amendments to the country's electronic-communications law that pave the way for the reregistation of nearly 7 million active mobile-phone cards sold in Tajikistan.
The move is part of an effort to tighten security across the former Soviet republic and curb the use of Tajik-registered phones by militants in neighboring Afghanistan.
It also tightens government control over who sells or buys new subscriber-identity-module (SIM) cards, making it compulsory for buyers to leave their fingerprints along with passport details.
Speaking to the parliament on December 2, Tajikistan's deputy intelligence minister said the lack of such control has led to many Tajik SIM cards being used by Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
Mansur Umarov did not elaborate, but he said Tajikistan would crack down on those selling SIM cards illegally.
The measures come less than a week after parliament speaker Shukurjon Zuhurov told lawmakers that deadly attacks that left more than 20 people dead in and around Dushanbe in September "showed that many arrangements in such coup attempts take place through mobile phones."
The government has blamed the attacks on former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda, who was subsequently killed in a military operation, and alleged allies from a now-shuttered Islamic political party.
Mobile-phone buyers are currently required to provide a passport to purchase a new SIM card from official vendors, including mobile-phone service providers and nonspecialty shops.
"Many criminals usually use 10 to 15 SIM cards for planning and committing crime," Jurakhon Majidzoda, the head of parliament's security committee, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service, adding that the new measures should help tighten security and prevent crime.
"Nowadays, in some countries, including Pakistan, authorities use mobile-phone registration to catch criminals," he said, referring to Pakistan's nationwide drive earlier this year to verify the identity of every mobile-phone user in country.
Tajik authorities say a similar campaign will begin in Tajikistan once the amendments to the law are approved by the upper house of the parliament and then signed by President Emomali Rahmon.
The authorities expect the reregistration of all active SIM cards to take up to 12 months. Then SIM-card holders are required to renew the registration every year.
The reregistration will be carried out by mobile-phone-service providers.
Ghafurjon Erkaev, the head of Tajikistan's Association of Mobile Phone Service Providers, called it an enormous task that "requires a lot of time and money" as companies will have to hire additional workers to register the vast number of clients.
Erkaev said the companies have not yet to worked out how reregistration will be carried out, as thousands of clients live outside Tajikistan, including more than 1 million migrant workers, many of whom return home around once a year.
Some SIM-card sellers are concerned that the new amendments, including fingerprint and annual registration requirements, will hurt their business.
"Since SIM cards are inexpensive, people buy them quite often," said Akmal Qurbonov, who sells SIM cards from a small kiosk in Dushanbe's Shohmansur bazaar. "For example, someone likes a new phone-number combination or someone forgets their personal identification number and they just buy a new SIM."
In such cases, he said, "it happens quite often that customers use their friends or colleagues' passport to buy a new SIM as people don't usually carry passports with them all the time."
Qurbonov said that under the new requirements, people will be more cautious with their SIM cards or lending their passports to someone else to get a new phone number.
Tajik authorities say more nearly 12 million SIM cards have been sold in Tajikistan, where the prices range from $0.77 to $1.50.
While a majority of SIM-card sellers operate with an official license, the cards can also be obtained at illegal markets that don't require passport details.
The deputy intelligence minister, however, said authorities would take measures against illegal operators.
On November 25, Tajikistan's parliament approved an amendment to a counterterrorism law providing law-enforcement agencies with the right to block the Internet and mobile-phone service during counterterrorism operations.
During debate of that law, the parliament speaker said that "terrorist attacks in Paris, Afghanistan, Egypt, and other countries have prompted us to take measures to similar attacks in our country."
Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Zarangez Navruzshoh.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.