Accessibility links

Breaking News

Qishloq Ovozi

Tajik bloggers have said their revenues are not big enough to be taxed. (file photo)

Bloggers in Tajikistan have until April 1 to show up at the tax service to register and pay taxes on any profits.

It might seem like an unremarkable demand.

But years of flying under the tax collector's radar along with what many bloggers claim are meager revenues invite questions about official motives for clamping down on one of Central Asia's few havens for robustly independent voices and themes.

A tax-enforcement push looks like a "win" for Tajik authorities, who are always on the lookout for additional tax revenues while being equally wary of what's posted on the Internet in Tajikistan.

On the other hand, it looks like a losing proposition for many bloggers, some of whom complain that paying any taxes will spell the end of their days posting to globally relevant media like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Tax Committee official Shamsullo Kabirzoda told RFE/RL's Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, that some popular local bloggers and others are posting videos to YouTube that carry advertising.

"They receive money by advertising products and products of large companies on their pages and channels, and therefore must pay taxes," Kabirzoda said.

The independent Tajik website Asia-Plus quoted a source within the Tax Committee as asking, similarly, "Why should people who do physical work and have a hard time earning money pay taxes while bloggers who easily earn even more should not?"

Tajikistan's tax office in Dushanbe
Tajikistan's tax office in Dushanbe

Some bloggers have already reacted publicly.

The Asia-Plus report cited Usmonjon Mirzomurodov, who runs a show called Tojikonshow on YouTube.

"You have no right to tax me," Mirzomurodov said. "I swear, my YouTube channel brought in just $101 in one year -- what will you tax me from? Should I borrow another $100 and pay you $200? This is what you do, which is why so many are disappointed in their homeland."

Blogger Shoira Pulodova told Ozodi, "We're a small country, and many people know each other. Often people will ask us bloggers, as friends, to advertise something for them. We don't get anything for these videoclips."

This remains the big question for many: If there are no profits, will they still be expected to pay something?

Kabirzoda told Ozodi there are currently 29 social networks or channels with audiences of between 3 million and 19 million subscribers. The Asia-Plus source at the Tax Committee was quoted as saying that "this industry is growing strongly and in developed countries there is huge cash turnover."

But most bloggers in Tajikistan have nowhere near that number of subscribers, and they say they're not seeing anything like huge revenues.

In a recent article for CABAR.Asia, researcher Muslimbek Buriev argued that Tajik authorities routinely "seek to introduce new taxes" to make up for budget shortfalls and cites PwC statistics that suggest Tajikistan now has among the highest taxes in the Central Asian region.

The decision to impose taxes on bloggers could simply be viewed as Tajik authorities leaving no stone unturned when looking for new sources of revenue.

But it also gives authorities more leverage over its citizens who are posting on social networks.

At least two criminal cases were filed against bloggers in 2019, one of whom was eventually fined.

Failure to pay taxes -- in full or in part -- has been used in the past as grounds to shut down many organizations, particularly independent groups and NGOs.

Decisions to shut down websites or exclude individuals from posting on social networks have more frequently been over content -- often material that was critical of or embarrassing to the government or someone in the government.

Such prohibitions were widely regarded by critics as political.

But the new concern is that tax problems might be used by authorities to accomplish the same goal while providing them greater cover from decisions to cancel or ban such sites.

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service contributed to this report
Activists protest against human rights abuses in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, in February 2020.

When Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, officially stepped down from office in March 2019 and Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev became president, Toqaev promised changes to a system that had not changed very much in nearly 28 years.

There were many fair words about reforms, but nearly two years later Kazakhstan’s political system looks to be much the same as it has been.

On February 10, the European Parliament released a joint motion for a resolution that detailed the many areas where Kazakhstan continues to fall well short of its commitments to respect basic rights.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (file photo)
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (file photo)

Kazakh authorities responded with the now-common defense that the criticisms were superficial and failed to take into account all of the changes that are happening in Kazakhstan.

On this week's Majlis podcast, RFE/RL media-relations manager Muhammad Tahir moderates a discussion on Kazakhstan in which some say the situation is actually becoming worse, not better, despite Toqaev’s promises.

This week’s guests are: from Almaty: Yevgeny Zhovtis, veteran rights defender and director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, and Marius Fossum, the Central Asia representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee; and from Prague: Aigerim Toleukhanova, a journalist in RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, and Bruce Pannier, author of the Qishloq Ovozi blog.

Despite Promises, Are Rights Abuses In Kazakhstan Getting Worse?
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:42:21 0:00
Direct link

Listen to the podcast above or subscribe to the Majlis on iTunes or on Google Podcasts.

Load more

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

Subscribe

Blog Archive
XS
SM
MD
LG