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RFE/RL President Jamie Fly

WASHINGTON -- RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has criticized the government of Tajikistan for obstructing the efforts of the broadcasters' journalists to cover the coronavirus pandemic in the Central Asian nation.

Fly expressed frustration at the government’s attempts to interfere with the operations of the service, known locally as Radio Ozodi, at a time when information "is needed more than ever.”

Fly spelled out his objections to Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin in a letter dated March 31.

Fly's letter comes as Muhriddin's ministry is set to decide on long-standing accreditation requests from Radio Ozodi journalists on April 1.

The ministry has been reluctant since late October to fully grant one-year accreditations to 18 RFE/RL journalists and staff members of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service whose credentials have been withheld by the ministry or which expired on November 1.

The Tajik Foreign Ministry on January 21 said it had issued six-month accreditations to four employees of the bureau, including a driver. Accreditations for seven other journalists, including two former bureau chiefs, whom RFE/RL's Tajik Service had to replace due to the lack of accreditation, are pending, it added.

The RFE/RL president said authorities have refused to meet with Radio Ozodi’s reporters and have excluded them from public health briefings.

“We suspect, bizarrely, that it was precisely our active reporting about the virus that led the government last week to ban Ozodi’s website and censor this coverage," Fly said.

Radio Ozodi plays an outsized role in Tajikistan, a poor Central Asian state bordering China and Afghanistan. Critics have assailed the government there for not acknowledging that there have been coronavirus cases in the country and that they are being registered as other diseases.

Fly deplored the actions, describing them as "an effort to control who works for Ozodi and what they report," and as a betrayal of an explicit pledge made by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to RFE/RL last year.

He decried other efforts to harass and intimidate Ozodi staff members, including comments posted by some government officials applauding the denial of accreditation, accusing Ozodi journalists of “incitement” and “disloyalty to the state,” and labeling the service’s Dushanbe bureau “a nest for espionage.”

With reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik Service
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (file photo)

In a thinly veiled warning to right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister VIktor Orban, the European Union's executive said on March 31 that emergency measures adopted by member states to fight the coronavirus crisis cannot undercut democracy.

"It is of utmost importance that emergency measures are not at the expense of our fundamental principles and values...Democracy cannot work without free and independent media," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.

The statement came a day after Hungary's parliament approved legislation giving Orban sweeping new powers under -- and possibly beyond -- the country's state of emergency to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Von der Leyen did not name Hungary but her statement will nevertheless be seen as a rebuke to Orban's adoption of rule by decree.

"Any emergency measures must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate. They must not last indefinitely," von der Leyen said.

In Hungary's southern neighbor, Serbia, which is not an EU member but aspires to join the 27-member bloc , President Aleksandar Vucic announced an open-ended state of emergency on March 15 and parliament has been sidelined.

Vucic has assumed full power, prompting an outcry from opponents who say he has seized control of the state in an unconstitutional manner.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

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