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Tajikistan: Government Shuts Down Independent Radio Station

(RFE/RL) Tajik authorities have taken the independent Imruz (Today) radio station off the air, citing "technical problems."

Since it began broadcasting last summer, Imruz had become the most popular FM station in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, and the surrounding area. Among the locals, Imruz was known as a "serious radio station." It broadcast news and reports focusing on Tajikistan's political and social sphere, as well as music.

The radio's bosses and editors have been reluctant to talk to the media since the decision was made on April 8.

"The motives are still unclear," says Rustami Joni, the head of radio Imruz. "I don't think the decision [to stop the radio] has anything to do with the Tajik government."

Joni added that a few days before the radio's closure "officials" were checking the content of the radio station's reports from early April, but he stopped short of saying who "the officials" were.

Unlike many other local radio stations, Imruz did not avoid criticizing the country's political scene. All politicians, including opposition leaders and critics of the government, have had access to the station. One of its recent guests was Rahmatullo Zoirov, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party and an outspoken critic of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

Avoid Direct Criticism

Fearing pressure and reprisals, most local media outlets in Tajikistan try to avoid direct criticism of the government and top officials, and decide to self-censor their work.

A few days before being shut down, Imruz reported on a planned public protest in the eastern city of Khorog, saying that the local people were increasingly dissatisfied with their low and often unpaid wages, as well as with the growing food prices.

The same day, the radio station aired a commentary on the country's rampant unemployment -- one of the biggest problems in Tajikistan -- and the plight of Tajik migrant laborers in Russia. The commentary made a gloomy prediction, saying that in the next few years half of Tajikistan's population will turn into seasonal workers in Russia.

The radio station also covered Tajikistan's admission that it had lied to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMF demanding $46 million in loans back.

Independent journalist Rajabi Mirzo says that so far only Russian-language media in Tajikistan would dare to take such a critical tone.

"Tajik-language media have much more influence and impact in Tajikistan and therefore they could become more dangerous [for the government]," Mirzo says. "Radio Imruz was the first local FM station to broadcast its programs entirely in the Tajik language. It focused on subjects that so far have only been covered by Russian-language radios. So it wasn't acceptable for many people [in the government]."

Criticizing Rahmon's government is a rare occurrence among Tajik media. Those who have dared to do so have been penalized. Almost all independent publications that have been critical of the government or the president, including the dailies "Ruzi nav," "Odamu olam," and "Nirui sukhan" have been shut down in recent years. Even the BBC was removed from the FM band more than two years ago.

Back On The Air?

Many Tajiks say the authorities should focus on solving the country's social and economic problems instead of shutting down media outlets that criticize the current situation.

It remains unclear when Imruz will get permission to broadcast again. Some people predict it will come back on the air, but that it will be much more cautious after getting what amounts to a rebuke from the government.

It is not the first time that Imruz has been taken off the air. It was shut down in February by the authorities but was back on the air less than three days later.

Imruz's listeners have one more reason to hope that their favorite FM station will return to the airways soon. The radio indirectly belongs to the Tajik president's influential and wealthy brother-in-law, Hasan Sadulloev. Sadulloev is the head of Orien Bank, one of the biggest in the country, which owns Imruz as a part of its so-called media-holding group.

The closure of Imruz shows that even some of the closest people to President Rahmon must exercise caution when it comes to criticizing his government's policies or problems in the country.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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