Dushanbe, 18 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Journalism is a dangerous profession in many countries of the world, and nowhere has it been more hazardous than in Tajikistan.
By the count of the Moscow-based Glasnost Foundation, more than 40 journalists were murdered in the war-torn Central Asian state from 1992 to the end of fighting in the civil war last year. The American Committee to Protect Journalists has named Tajikistan as being among the most lethal place on the globe for media people.
The journalists who died in the war years were killed for political, regional or personal reasons. Many of them had opposed the proposed amendments to the law on the press in 1992 which attempted to sharply restrict the freedom of the press in Tajikistan. Those amendments were eventully dropped.
Most of the assassinations are believed to have been done at the hands of various armed groups who are still active and out of control. Even though the government, fearing for its reputation, has condemned the killings, criminal investigations have failed to bring any substantial results.
Many Tajik writers last week took the time to mourn their dead colleagues on the occasion of the National Media Day on March 11. They also told an RFE/RL correspondent of the severe pressures they continue to feel.
"There is no official censorship in the Tajik media", said Sayidali Siddiq, a well-known local journalist. "But everyone is under the persistent pressure of self-censorship; everyone has still vivid memories of what happened in the civil war."
Another writer, Zangi Shavaran, who works for a government newspaper, said: "We have no guarantees, without which no one can feel himself free and safe to write everything."
Asadullo Sa'dulloev, teacher of journalism at Dushanbe University, told RFE/RL that civil war and terror forced dozens of journalists to flee to Russia and other countries, creating gaps and serious shortage of professionals in the Tajik media.
Sa'dulloev expressed the hope that, with the peace agreements now bearing their fruits, Tajik journalists living in Russia and the West will return home and contribute to the improvement of the Tajik media.
According to Nurmuhammad Niyozi, poet and chairman of the Leninabad provincial Writers' Union, many Tajiks do not trust the information presently provided by Tajik media. "To get objective and accurate information, I and many of my friends turn to foreign broadcasters, particularly RFE/RL", he said.
Paradoxically, however, Tajikistan is better off in regard to freedom of speech and of the press than many of its Central Asian neighbors. An astounding total of 202 newspapers and magazines are currently published in Tajikistan, including 8 independent and 41 non-government newspapers. None of them is published daily at present because of problems over financing and circulation.
Thirteen independent TV studios and three radio stations also operate in the country. But all of these face serious shortages in funding and technical equipments.
A few other opposition newspapers are published abroad and find their way into the country although they are de facto considered as banned. Our correspondent says that if the agreements of the recent peace talks are in fact implemented, the banned media will resume their activity within the country.
The author, a staff member with RFE/RL's Tajik Service, is a former editor-in-chief of "Charogh-i Rooz", the first independent Tajik newspaper, which is now published in Moscow.