The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter last week to the Tajikistan government outlining its concerns about press freedoms in the country. The respected press watchdog group says government harassment, intimidation, and censorship regularly stifle press freedoms in Tajikistan.
Prague, 14 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed it concerns to the Tajikistan government over the lack of press freedoms in the country. These concerns were contained in a letter addressed to Tajikistan Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov on 8 May.
Alex Lupis is the CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. He told RFE/RL that one of the most important issues the CPJ wants the Tajik authorities to address is the ongoing intimidation and attack of journalists by government officials. The CPJ has documented eight such cases since 1992.
"One was the July 2001 attempt [unsuccessful] by the Tajik authorities to extradite [from Russia] Dododjon Atovullo, publisher and editor of [the Tajik opposition newspaper] 'Charogi Ruz.' The charges against him were for sedition and insulting the president," Lupis said.
Lupis said the CPJ believes the charges against Atovullo were in retaliation for criticism of the government published in "Charogi Ruz."
The CPJ also cited the case of reporter Khrushed Atovulloev from the newspaper "Dzhavononi Tojikiston," who the CPJ said was questioned and threatened last June by officials from the State Security Ministry. The CPJ said the heavy-handed treatment was in retaliation for an article describing abysmal living conditions endured by university students and bribe taking by teaching staff.
The CPJ said these incidents are all in violation of Article 162 of the Tajikistan Penal Code, which makes it illegal to obstruct a journalist's professional activities.
Tajikistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Satarov said his office in Dushanbe had not yet received the letter from the CPJ and had no comment on its contents.
The Tajikistan government, Lupis said, also maintains strict control over the Sharki Ozod state-run printing house in the capital, Dushanbe.
"The government has used its political control over the printing house basically to censor either articles that are critical of the government or even just to refuse to print the publication," Lupis said.
At the same time, Lupis said, the Tajikistan government strongly restricts the establishment of independent radio or television outlets in the country.
"The fact that there are no truly independent television stations in Dushanbe, it just seems like an effort by the government to only give licenses to independent stations either if they are political loyalists to the government or if they are in some remote region," Lupis said.
Roshan Khadivi is the country director for Internews Network in Tajikistan, an international nonprofit organization that supports open media. She told RFE/RL that she also believes there is a political motivation behind the fact that the only independent radio station in the country, Radio Tiroz, and the majority of the 15 independent television stations in Tajikistan have been given the opportunity to broadcast, but only in the remote northern part of Tajikistan. Many of the stations target Tajik citizens living in neighboring Uzbekistan.
The CPJ and Internews both say they are particularly concerned about the actions of the State Committee for Television and Radio, calling it one of the main obstacles to the establishment of independent television stations in the country. The committee is in charge of granting broadcasting licenses to independent stations and also runs the state television station.
"They have created a sort of competition that keeps all these independent TV stations much more behind [the state-owned station]. However, the quality of the programs of these independent stations, I can say, is much more varied and highlights more the concerns of citizens in Tajikistan. However, it's only limited to up north," Khadivi said.
Lupis of the CPJ said his organization also raised concerns in its letter about the Tajikistan Penal Code, which makes it a crime to publicly defame or insult a person's honor or reputation. In addition, Article 137 stipulates that publicly insulting Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov is punishable by up to five years in jail.
"That's just absurd because the president is really the center of political life in a country. And a central component to democracy is being able to criticize and question the policies of the government," Lupis said.
According to Rashid Ghani, an independent Tajik political researcher, the problem of press freedom in Tajikistan is being exaggerated by international organizations. Concerning the state-run printing house, Ghani said the problems are financial rather than political, and that it is up to the media outlets themselves to control their own fates.
"Mass media by itself should think about creating their own possibilities, and be able to do something in order to have some alternative facilities," Ghani said.
Ghani admits there is a problem regarding the issuance of television and radio licenses in Tajikistan. But he said he believes it is possible, through greater dialogue, for the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan to reach agreements with the Ministry of Communication and other state bodies.
"Independent TV [stations are] trying to find some kind of solution for the problem. The chairman of the association of independent mass media [told me] that they were able to find solutions for a lot of problems," Ghani said.
Ghani said international organizations should try to understand Tajikistan's media environment, rather than simply criticize it.
"Tajikistan [has been living] in peaceful conditions [for] only five years. And it's impossible to find solutions for all problems just now. Everybody should be very patient and should have 'long-breath capability' in order to be able to find solutions for their problems," Ghani said.
Ghani said international organizations should adapt their recommendations to the local situation. Otherwise, he stressed, such outside recommendations could be interpreted -- as he put it -- as "some kind of extremism."
"Any attempt to implement right now the Western standards into Central Asia as a whole, I consider it rather as an extremist approach, because the situation is very different, conditions are very different, the mentality is different. Therefore, any standard, during its move from the West to the East, should be modified," Ghani said.
At the beginning of the 1990s, Ghani said, Tajikistan was free, but Tajik society was unable to accept such freedom so quickly, and it led to a civil war. Therefore, Ghani said, efforts should be concentrated on the gradual creation of a favorable environment for the country's mass media, including tolerance for the free expression of ideas.
(The website for the Committee to Protect Journalists is http://www.cpj.org.)