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RFE/RL's Tajik Service is known locally as Ozodi.

The Tajik Foreign Ministry has partially renewed accreditation for seven journalists in RFE/RL’s Dushanbe bureau, but stopped short of providing the one-year extensions guaranteed under ministry regulations.

Salimjon Aiubov, the director of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, said on October 31 that six journalists were offered an extension of six months, while a seventh was given just three.

A total of nine Ozodi journalists were due to see their work credentials expire on November 1. The ministry did not renew accreditation for two of the journalists, including the acting bureau chief. No explanation was offered for the decision.

The October 31 decision brings to 11 the number of Ozodi journalists and support staff who have been denied accreditation by the Tajik Foreign Ministry.

In a letter to Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said the ministry’s decision to withhold accreditation from some members of the Tajik Service and grant only partial accreditation to others was obstructing the organization’s journalistic mission inside the country.

“Instead of addressing our concerns, your ministry responded to our repeated requests to accredit our journalists only yesterday, and with only partial approvals that fail to recognize the fundamental right of our journalists to work,” Fly wrote.

He said RFE/RL “will not succumb to pressure in our reporting in and about Tajikistan,” and urged the ministry “to accredit fully all Ozodi journalists immediately and let them do their jobs.”

Tajik law prohibits foreign-media journalists from working without accreditation. RFE/RL, which is funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media, operates as an international media organization in Tajikistan.

Free-press advocates have criticized Tajikistan for using accreditation as a pressure tactic. OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir said last week that “accreditation should not be used as a work permit,” and called on Dushanbe to restore credentials for Ozodi journalists.

In letters to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate called for Ozodi’s staff to be “accredited expeditiously” and expressed concern that denying accreditation for Ozodi journalists could lead to “repercussions for the strengthening of the U.S.-Tajik relationship.”

Tajikistan first revoked Ozodi credentials in 2016, stripping six correspondents of their right to work following an article about Rahmon’s daughter receiving a Foreign Ministry post. The accreditations were restored after a public outcry.

The issue comes as Tajikistan, which ranks 161st out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, heads into parliamentary and presidential elections next year.

International and Tajik media rights groups have urged authorities in Dushanbe to ensure that journalists can work freely ahead of the polls.

In an October 25 open letter to Rahmon, Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote, “It is imperative that the Tajik authorities respect international standards of press freedom by ensuring that journalists can work freely and safely and citizens can make informed choices about politics.”

'If I Disappear, Forgive Me': Missing Gay Turkmen's Plea
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A young man in Turkmenistan who detailed his tormented life being gay in a conservative country has vanished along with his family after going to a police station where he had been summoned.

Twenty-four-year-old Kasymberdy Garayev -- whose mother and father and siblings have also disappeared -- worked as a cardiologist at a prestigious clinic in Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital.

He recounted to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service the many problems he had being gay in Turkmenistan -- where homosexuality is still considered a crime -- in a story published on October 21.

Garayev described the massive pressure he was under from both his family and officials in Turkmenistan, where being gay is punishable by up to 2 years in prison.

He said that only members of his family knew about his sexual orientation and even they attempted to convince him to “live a lie” and conceal the truth from everyone.

Their efforts to "help" him included trying to forcibly marry him in arranged marriages, forcing him to seek counseling from psychiatrists and imams, and suggesting he sleep with a prostitute to become a "real" man.

Electric Shocks

Garayev said that police had ridiculed and beaten him before also administering electric shocks after one detention.

Garayev worked as a cardiologist in Ashgabat.
Garayev worked as a cardiologist in Ashgabat.

Garayev told RFE/RL that he hoped by telling his story he could help others in Turkmenistan who were in a similar situation.

Turkmen authorities reacted to the publication of Garayev’s story by unleashing the security service to scour the health sector in Ashgabat and find the person, who was referred to in reports under the pseudonym “Kamil.”

Garayev was among those called in by police.

Disappeared

On October 24, he went to a police station after being summoned.

It was the last time he was heard from.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contacted the clinic where Garayev was working only to be told “this person no longer works here.”

Attempts to find Garayev’s family also failed after finding out that the family was no longer living in their home in Ashgabat and the neighbors didn't know what happened to them.

Turkmenistan, starting with its first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, and continuing in 2006 with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has been working for years to construct the model Turkmen citizen.

Authorities dictate what is proper behavior, what type of clothes can be worn, what background a person needs to work in the government, even what color people's cars can be.

And one thing authorities insist a Turkmen citizen should never do is portray anything in Turkmenistan as being less than perfect.

Those who stray from such precepts face consequences, prompting serious concerns about Garayev's situation.

Think Turkmenistan Is Funny? Think Again
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WATCH: Think Turkmenistan Is Funny? Think Again

The Prove They Are Alive campaign has already documented 121 cases of people who were imprisoned in Turkmenistan and never heard from again.

Garayev had even recorded an emotional farewell video message to his family, apologizing to them for any problems he may have caused them for coming out publicly as being gay, but pleading with them to “accept me for what I am” as he said goodbye to them.

"I really did not mean to harm you by my behavior," he said, very emotional and crying. "I am sorry! If I am gone, don’t blame me! Dad, don’t be too nervous, otherwise you will get sick. Mom...don’t worry either. Kovus, keep an eye on them all. Forgive me! Kovus, be careful, keep an eye on everyone.

"Kyas, be considerate and learn to think a little. Act considerately, be careful! Akja, my little sister, you haven’t seen anything yet, only tears. Forgive me too!... Akjahanjan, I hope you grow up a beautiful, prominent girl. Be a good girl! I guess I won’t see how you grow up. I am sorry! All be happy and honest. Live in a happy family, but now without me. Do not worry. I beg you again, forgive. Sorry! I kiss you all. Farewell!"

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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