DUSHANBE -- Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khairulloev has accused independent newspapers of sympathizing with the Islamic militants who ambushed an army convoy in late August, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
In an official statement issued on October 4, Khairulloev accused the media of "biased and one-sided" coverage of the August 19 attack in Rasht, east of Dushanbe, in which at least 25 Tajik conscripts were killed. He called for legal action to be taken.
Nuriddin Qarshiboev, who heads Tajikistan's Association of Independent Media, told RFE/RL that Khairulloev's accusation is unfounded, and he should present evidence to substantiate his charges. Qarshiboev said if he fails to do so, journalists will sue him for libel.
The editors of "Farazn," which was specifically cited by Khairulloev for being biased, and five other independent newspapers -- "Busines i Politika," "Fakty i Kommentarii," "Asia Plus," and "Paykon" -- plan to leave one page blank in their next weekly editions to protest. They have appealed to other weeklies to do the same.
The independent press and the Defense Ministry have previously exchanged accusations over coverage of the Rasht attack.
Two weeks ago, state television broadcast a Defense Ministry statement criticizing initial coverage of the incident. Independent media outlets responded one week ago by protesting the criticism and demanding an apology from the ministry for "insulting the free media."