Reporters Without Borders reiterates its concern about the worsening situation of the Tajik media, which has been detailed by the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan (NANSMIT) in a report of its press freedom monitoring in 2010.
Independent media and journalists have been subjected to constant pressure for more than six months and ten media prosecutions are currently under way.
NANSMIT said in its report that it registered 58 cases of direct violations of the rights of journalists and media in 2010 and 52 cases of conflicts involving journalists and media or accusations being brought against them.
The report notes that the government launched a major crackdown on independent media in September because of their coverage of an attack on a military convoy in the eastern Rasht valley. Many news websites were blocked and the independent weeklies Faraj, Negah and Paykhon were prevented from printing.
The authorities are now using a range of methods in an attempt to control the media, including informal and financial pressure, an increase in the number of defamation suits and arbitrary arrest.
Earlier this month, the prosecutor-general summoned Paykhon’s editor and demanded to know the sources for an article published in its 1 February issue. When the editor refused to name the sources, the prosecutor-general told him that the newspaper would henceforth have to submit each article prior to publication.
The weekly Millat was fined 1,500 somoni (250 euros) on 8 February for alleging defaming the agriculture minister in an article that quoted the National Anti-Corruption Agency and several legislators as saying his ministry was “the most corrupt entity in Tajikistan.”
At the same time, the head of the Organized Crime Control Department (UBOP) has brought a libel suit against the newspaper Asia Plus. The case was due to be heard yesterday but was postponed until 10 March to allow more time to examine the relevant documents.
A ban on street sales of newspapers and an income tax increase last month has meanwhile threatened the financial survival of Tajikistan’s independent weeklies. The impossibility of bringing out issues during the month of September had already cost them dearly and brought them closer to bankruptcy.
In another sign of growing repression, Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov, the correspondent of the newspapers Nuri Zindagi and Istikol in the northern province of Sughd, has been held since 23 November over an article about alleged corrupt and irregular practices in the regional prosecutor’s office.
Charged with libel, insulting an official, inciting religious and racial hatred and blackmail, Ismoilov will remain in detention until he is tried, the judicial authorities have said. No date has so far been set for the trial. When he saw his lawyer on 18 February, he told her that he had signed a statement under duress in which he waived his right to be defended by a lawyer at his trial.
NANSMIT said the detention of a reporter in connection with his work had set a very disturbing precedent for Tajik journalism and raised many questions about the government’s intentions towards independent media.
Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the tougher line that the government has been taking with critical news media for than six months. It violates their rights and poses a serious threat to media pluralism in Tajikistan. The combination of economic, political and judicial harassment could end up bankrupting many of these media.
Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to stop these press freedom violations and to release Ismoilov as a signal of their determination to do so.