The Tajik Foreign Ministry has partially renewed accreditation for seven journalists in RFE/RL’s Dushanbe bureau, but stopped short of providing the one-year extensions guaranteed under ministry regulations.
Salimjon Aiubov, the director of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, said on October 31 that six journalists were offered an extension of six months, while a seventh was given just three.
A total of nine Ozodi journalists were due to see their work credentials expire on November 1. The ministry did not renew accreditation for two of the journalists, including the acting bureau chief. No explanation was offered for the decision.
The October 31 decision brings to 11 the number of Ozodi journalists and support staff who have been denied accreditation by the Tajik Foreign Ministry.
In a letter to Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said the ministry’s decision to withhold accreditation from some members of the Tajik Service and grant only partial accreditation to others was obstructing the organization’s journalistic mission inside the country.
“Instead of addressing our concerns, your ministry responded to our repeated requests to accredit our journalists only yesterday, and with only partial approvals that fail to recognize the fundamental right of our journalists to work,” Fly wrote.
He said RFE/RL “will not succumb to pressure in our reporting in and about Tajikistan,” and urged the ministry “to accredit fully all Ozodi journalists immediately and let them do their jobs.”
Tajik law prohibits foreign-media journalists from working without accreditation. RFE/RL, which is funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media, operates as an international media organization in Tajikistan.
Free-press advocates have criticized Tajikistan for using accreditation as a pressure tactic. OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir said last week that “accreditation should not be used as a work permit,” and called on Dushanbe to restore credentials for Ozodi journalists.
In letters to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate called for Ozodi’s staff to be “accredited expeditiously” and expressed concern that denying accreditation for Ozodi journalists could lead to “repercussions for the strengthening of the U.S.-Tajik relationship.”
Tajikistan first revoked Ozodi credentials in 2016, stripping six correspondents of their right to work following an article about Rahmon’s daughter receiving a Foreign Ministry post. The accreditations were restored after a public outcry.
The issue comes as Tajikistan, which ranks 161st out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, heads into parliamentary and presidential elections next year.
International and Tajik media rights groups have urged authorities in Dushanbe to ensure that journalists can work freely ahead of the polls.
In an October 25 open letter to Rahmon, Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote, “It is imperative that the Tajik authorities respect international standards of press freedom by ensuring that journalists can work freely and safely and citizens can make informed choices about politics.”