As French President Emmanuel Macron prepares to receive his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rakhmon, who is to participate in the Paris Peace Forum, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Europe’s leaders to condition their relations with Tajikistan on respect for press freedom.
Macron’s decision to meet with Rakhmon offers a unique occasion to raise the issue of the freedom to inform in Tajikistan, where it is constantly flouted although guaranteed by the country’s constitution and international treaties. Tajikistan is haemorrhaging independent journalists. More than 20 have fled abroad since Rakhmon began cracking down in 2016.
“Regardless of the economic and strategic benefits of trade and relations between France and Tajikistan, a frank dialogue between partners should not overlook press freedom,” RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk said.
“The current autocratic excesses are incompatible with deeper relations between Paris and Dushanbe. During the Paris Peace Forum, which President Rakhmon is due to attend, we urge all European leaders to condition their relations with Tajikistan on respect for press freedom.”
Tajikistan has plunged 45 places in the World Press Freedom Index since 2015, a dramatic fall that is due in part to massive Internet censorship. The state telecommunications agency illegally and arbitrarily blocks news websites such as Asia-Plus, an independent news outlet that is one of its favourite targets. This agency is used above all to reinforce the president’s personal power.
The authorities have monopolized Internet access since 2018 and have not hesitated to use their power to cut access to online resources, including leading news sites such as Ferghana and Akhbor, instant messaging services, video platforms such as YouTube and sometimes even Google. This is their automatic response to economic or social difficulties or street protests.
Journalists who are just trying to do their job are constantly subjected to harassment by the intelligence services, intimidation and blackmail. Khayrullo Mirsaidov was arrested in December 2017 after publishing an open letter accusing senior officials of corruption and was given a 12-year jail sentence the following July after a sham trial. He was finally freed after being held for eight months but his “example” served its purpose. A climate of intimidation discourages journalists from tackling sensitive subjects. And their self-censorship fosters impunity for corruption.
Pressure is also put on international media outlets. Journalists, including those working for the Tajik-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, are subject to the constant threat of having their press accreditation withdrawn.
Tajikistan is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.