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Abdulloh Ghurbati (file photo)

Fifteen nongovernmental organizations in Tajikistan, along with several noted journalists, have urged officials to "thoroughly" investigate the recent beatings of a journalist working for independent Asia Plus news agency.

In their open letter made public on June 3 and addressed to the presidential administration, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and the country's ombudsman, the group -- including well-known Tajik organizations defending civil rights, such as Apeiron, Nota Bene, The World of Law, and the Independent Human Rights Center -- called for the attackers of Abdulloh Ghurbati to be "adequately" punished.

The authors of the statement also called on Tajik authorities to comply with national and international standards recognized by Tajikistan and to abandon the practice of harassing journalists and putting pressure on their professional activities.

“The humiliation of journalists because of their professional activities, as well as the failure to properly respond and investigate such attacks on journalists and media representatives, can lead to a significant deterioration with the freedom of expression in Tajikistan, as impunity contributes to an atmosphere of fear, self-censorship, and a decrease in the activities of journalists and media outlets in the country," the letter says.

Ghurbati was attacked twice last month -- on May 11 in Dushanbe near his home and on May 29 in the southern Khatlon region when he was working on a report about the aftermath of a recent landslide that killed two men.

The assailants in the first attack have not yet been found, while in the second case, police tried to accuse Ghurbati of provoking the attack by entering -- without permission -- tents used by some local residents as temporary shelters after their houses were destroyed by the landslide.

Ghurbati rejected the claims, saying that he didn't even have a chance to enter any of the tents and that he was attacked far away from where they were located.

In the end, police identified the attackers as three local residents, who were found guilty of petty hooliganism and fined 580 somonis ($56) each.

Rights defending NGOs and journalists, meanwhile, stressed in their letter that the three attackers should have been charged with obstruction of the legitimate professional activities of a journalist, a more serious felony.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has condemned the attacks and urged Tajik authorities to thoroughly investigate them

In April, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Tajikistan 161st out of 180 countries for press freedom.

According to RSF, conditions for independent media working in Tajikistan have dramatically worsened in the last two years.

Cleanup operations are under way in Siberia after at least 20,000 tons of diesel fuel leaked from a thermal power plant into local waterways near the industrial Arctic city of Norilsk.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has backed a proposal to declare a state of emergency on a federal scale, days after a diesel fuel leak seeped into local rivers, threatening an ecological disaster in the fragile Arctic environment.

Authorities in the Siberian city of Norilsk already declared a state of emergency after at least 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled from a thermal power plant on May 29 near the industrial city of Norilsk, located above the Arctic Circle.

At a meeting with Putin on June 3, Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev called for the spill to be declared a federal emergency – a move that would allow the use of Russia’s federal capabilities to tackle the situation.

"I agree with your proposal to declare an emergency," the Russian president responded to Zinichev.

He also instructed the minister "to be quick organizing the work related to prevention of further negative effects on the environment."

During the televised videoconference, Putin lambasted the head of the company that runs the thermal power facility, NTEK, after officials said it failed to report the incident.

"Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact? Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media? Is there something wrong with you?" Putin asked NTEK chief Sergei Lipin.

Russian mining conglomerate Norilsk Nickel, which owns NTEK, said the company had reported what happened in a "timely and proper" way.

It also said the leak was caused when pillars supporting a storage tank sank due to permafrost soil thawing.

Russia's Investigative Committee announced it had launched three criminal investigations over environmental violations and detained an employee of the plant.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has released satellite photos showing crimson red waters in the Daldykan and Ambarnaya rivers near Norilsk.

The environmental group warned that the poisoned water could reach Lake Pyasino, north of the city, but said on June 2 that oil booms installed by the Federal Marine Rescue Service appeared to be helping.

However, the containment doesn’t mean that toxic elements won't enter the lake, said Aleksey Knizhnikov of WWF-Russia.

“Unfortunately the most poisonous elements of diesel fuel are aromatic compounds like benzol, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, which mix with the water and it is impossible to collect them using oil booms,” he said.

'Ecological Catastrophe'

Russia's Rosrybolovstvo state fishing agency described the fuel leak as an ecological catastrophe.

"It can already be said now that it will take decades for the restoration of the ecological balance of the affected Norilo-Pyasinsky water system," said Dmitry Klokov, a spokesman for the agency.

Norilsk, an isolated city of 180,000 people built around Norilsk Nickel, the world's leading nickel and palladium producer, is located in the Krasnoyarsk region.

The city is constructed on permafrost and its infrastructure is threatened by melting ice caused by climate change.

Norilsk Nickel has historically been a major polluter. In 2018, it accounted for more than half of the emissions of sulfur dioxide emissions, a toxic gas tracked by NASA across Russia, the Barents Observer has reported.

The company is owned by Vladimir Potanin, who is Russia's richest man with a net worth of nearly $20 billion, according to Forbes.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, Interfax, TASS, and RIA Novosti

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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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