News

October 15, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

After using civil war spectre to gag media, government urged to dialogue


Reporters Without Borders deplores the offensive that the Tajik authorities have launched against media critical of the government, in which several newspapers have been forced to stop printing and access to many websites has been blocked.


In an open letter published by the official news agency Khovar on 4 October, defence minister Sherali Khairullayev accused 17 newspapers* that covered an attack by militants (possibly the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) on an army convoy in the eastern Rasht valley on 19 September of “complicity with the terrorists” and “committing a grave crime.” Despite protests from the newspapers and from press freedom defenders such as Nuriddin Karshiboev, the head of the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT), the authorities are continuing their attacks on the media. Referring to the 1992-97 civil war, President Emomali Rakhmon accused “certain media” on 5 October of “taking their example from the 1990s and being bellicose.” Warning them against just seeking “sensationalism,” he added that “hoping for the support of their foreign protectors will not do them any good.” Other officials such as the education minister have made similar comments. There have also been more direct forms of pressure. A tax investigation into three newspapers, Faraj, Negah and Millat, was launched on 28 September. A similar investigation was started the next day at three companies that print these newspapers. Syavosh Hamdamov, the head of one of the companies, AToliyev Print, said it was “more of an attack than an investigation” and that his staff had been questioned about the newspapers. “The reaction of the Tajik authorities is disproportionate and extremely damaging to the country’s image,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They may hope to demonstrate that they control the situation but the result could unfortunately be quite the opposite. “We understand that Tajikstan’s leaders are concerned about stability, as the country was torn by five years of civil war, but repressive and illegal measures will not help.” The press freedom organisation added: “We urge the authorities to respond favourably to the dialogue proposals being made by journalists and media advocates, and to put an immediate stop to the unjustified attempts to obstruct the media.” The heads of several news media and organisations that defend the media yesterday requested a meeting with presidential adviser S. Fatoyev to discuss the problems. At the same time, the Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan urged the defence minister to give specific examples to support his charges of complicity with the armed militants. Several independent news websites are currently inaccessible including those of the independent news agency Avesta.tj and the central Asia news and analysis outlet Ferghana.ru, as well as Tjknews.com and Centrasia.ru. The government is suspected of ordering the blocking although it has said nothing on the subject.




According to Zafar Abdullayev, the editor of Avesta.tj, the blocking started on 29 September. He said several Internet Service Providers told him that officials had instructed them to block the sites. Since the measure has not been officially recognised, the targeted electronic media have no recourse. As their financial situation is already fragile, it could cause them significant problems. Meanwhile, the weekly newspaper Faraj has been unable to appear for the second week running as it has not managed to find a company willing to print it. The newspaper Paykhon failed to appear on 13 October for the same reason. Tajikstan’s already precarious independent press has long face hostility from the authorities and the tension has grown steadily since the start of this year. The new outbreak of violence linked to the war in neighbouring Afghanistan, and Tajikistan’s role in that war, has fuelled the flames. Last July, Tajikistan’s deputy mufti, Saidjon Sorbonkhodj, publicly urged the government to close all the independent newspapers, blaming them for the anti-government criticism and protests and singling out Faraj and Paykhon. A former Soviet republic, Tajikistan became embroiled in a civil war within months of gaining its independence in 1991. More than 50,000 people died in the war, which pushed about a tenth of the estimated 7 million inhabitants into exile. Since then, Tajikistan has suffered the consequences of the war in Afghanistan, including a disturbing level of drug trafficking (80 per cent of the drug seizures in central Asia) and incursions by Islamic militants suspected of seeking refuge in Tajikistan’s mountains. *The newspapers that have criticised the defence ministry’s military operations include Asia Plus, Faraj, Ozodagon, Negah, Paykhon, Fakty i Kommentarii, Sobytia, Bizness i Politika, Tojikiston, Digest Press and Charikhi Gardun.