Reporters Without Borders has joined the Union of Journalists in Tajikistan (TUJ) and the National Association of Independent Media in Tajikistan (NANSMIT) in condemning the prosecution of the independent weekly Asia-Plus, undertaken by the head of the Organized Crime Control Department (UBOP), Anvar Tagaimurodov, in violation of international and Tajik law covering free speech.
He is claiming a million somoni (165,625 euros) in damages from the magazine Asia-Plus for publishing “defamatory and offensive news, damaging to his honor, dignity, and reputation”. He filed his complaint at the regional court in Dushanbe after the appearance of an article headed “Investigation or Inquisition?” in the 21 December 2010 edition of the weekly. Reporter Ramzii Mirzobekov told of the use of torture on some suspects by UBOP agents in the Sogdysk district.
Tagaimurodov said that “the correspondent had given in to his emotions and shown a lack of attention and undue haste in his relations with the authorities. The interior ministry and the UBOP, basing their case on the statements of those concerned, have agreed that his declarations have a defamatory and offensive nature.”
He also alleged that Mirzobekov and other journalists who had covered the terrorist attack at Khujand knew those who had perpetrated it, “were informed of their evil intentions and perhaps had ties to them.”
On 19 September fighters, possibly from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, attacked a convoy of Tajik troops in the valley of Rasht in the east of the country, killing 25 people.
A large scale campaign of repression and censorship followed: inquiries into tax affairs involving independent media and their publishing houses, blocking of news sites and so on.
The editor of Asia-Plus, Marat Mamadchoyev, regards Tagaimurodov’s statement as deeply disgusting. His correspondent Mirzobekov had already been questioned by the prosecutor about his articles, allegedly to clarify the information but in fact to find out his sources. The prosecutor had accused him of a serious offense and refused him the services of a lawyer, breaching the legal ban on divulging journalists' sources.
Article 19 of the international agreement relating to civil and political rights, (PIDCP) (LINK) signed in 1999 by Tajikistan guarantees that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.
Furthermore Article 30 of the country’s constitution guarantees every citizen freedom of speech, the press, the right to enjoy all mass news resources and bans government censorship and prosecution for criticism.
The growing number of prosecutions of journalists and the legal procedures related to them show that the final aim is to not to remedy mistakes and see justice triumph but to reduce critical or opposition media to silence. The pressures on the independent press risk bringing with them major restrictions on free speech and the growth of self-censorship in Tajikistan. Its international image could suffer seriously,
“Reporters Without Borders calls on the legal authorities to find Asia-Plus not guilty by virtue of the Tajik constitution and international legal norms,” the press freedom body says.
“In association with NANSMIT and the TUJ, it calls on them to put an end to all violations of the constitutional right of citizens to freedom of speech and access to information.”