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Tajikistan initially claimed there were no coronavirus cases in the country and President Emomali Rahmon (center) flouted warnings by international experts.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for the withdrawal of newly approved legislative amendments in Tajikistan under which false or inaccurate COVID-19 coverage would be subject to heavy fines.

The Paris-based media watchdog warned that the amendments could lead to censorship and other violations of press freedom.

"This new, vaguely defined legislation could be exploited to violate the right to information,” Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement published on June 12.

"Under international law, nothing ever justifies giving a public authority the power to decide what is true or false, or -- without reference to a judge -- to restrict the right of a person or media to freedom of expression on the grounds that what they say might be false or inaccurate," Cavalier added.

"We call for the withdrawal of these amendments, which violate freedom of the press and expression," she said.

Tajikistan's authoritarian government initially claimed there were no coronavirus cases in the country and President Emomali Rahmon flouted warnings by international experts to order social-distancing restrictions or other measures to try to curtail the spread of the disease.

According to official numbers, 4,690 people have contracted the virus in Tajikistan and 48 have died.

Narges Mohammadi has "serious health problems," her brother says, but is not allowed out of prison to see a doctor.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the latest "absurd charge" brought against jailed Iranian journalist and human rights advocate Narges Mohammadi, who has been imprisoned since 2015.

The Paris-based media-freedom watchdog on June 12 urged the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, Javaid Rehman, to "intervene quickly and do everything possible to obtain the release of Iran's longest-held woman journalist."

Mohammadi, who was also the spokeswoman of the Center for Human Rights Defenders in Iran, is serving a 10-year prison sentence after being found guilty of anti-government propaganda and membership of a banned group opposed to the death penalty, among other charges.

In a recent open letter to the Iranian judicial authorities, her brother revealed that she was now accused of "dancing in prison during the days of mourning" commemorating the seventh-century killing of Imam Hussein, a revered figure in Shi'ite Islam.

Mehdi Mohammadi, now a refugee in Norway, also wrote that his sister had serious health problems but "was not allowed out of prison to see a doctor, who went to her cell."

"This persecution of Narges Mohammadi is evidence of judicial discrimination at the behest of the Intelligence Ministry and senior justice system officials," said Reza Moini, the head of RSF's Iran-Afghanistan desk.

Mohammadi, 47, has been awarded several prestigious prizes, including the American Physical Society's Andrei Sakharov Prize in 2018 for outstanding leadership in upholding human rights.

Iran is ranked 173rd out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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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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