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Tajik Officials Downplay U.S. Criticism Of Attacks On Media

DUSHANBE -- In response to U.S. criticism of alleged reprisals against the independent media, the Tajik Foreign Ministry has reaffirmed his country's respect for its obligations as a member of the UN and the OSCE, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Ministry spokesman Davlat Nazriev told RFE/RL that Tajik Ambassador to the OSCE
Nuriddin Shamsov has officially responded to all the concerns U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Ian Kelly raised on February 17 at the OSCE Permanent Council session in Vienna.

Kelly expressed "grave concern" over the state of media freedom in Tajikistan and several other OSCE member states.

Kelly highlighted three separate incidents in Tajikistan.

He said on February 7, Hikmattuloh Sayfullozoda, editor of the Islamic Renaissance Party's newspaper and party spokesman, was called out of his house in Dushanbe and beaten. Sayfullozoda, 60, was hospitalized with severe head injuries.

Kelly called on the Tajik government to conduct a thorough investigation into the attack and ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable.

Kelly further noted that the editor of the independent weekly newspaper "Paykon" was summoned to appear in court on February 10 to respond to charges by the Justice Ministry that its affiliate, the Center of Investigative Journalism, is improperly registered. The ministry asked the court to close the organization because it did not register a change of address which was simply a move to a different floor in the same building.

Observers question whether the Justice Ministry is punishing the newspaper for a critical article about a recent court decision to close a downtown shopping mall. A separate libel case against "Paykon," filed by Tajikistan's product licensing agency, also remains open.

In the third case, a court in Dushanbe on February 9 ordered the newspaper "Millat" to pay the Agriculture Ministry 1,500 somonis ($337) after finding it guilty of libeling the ministry by calling it the "most corrupt" government body. The editor in chief of "Millat" called the verdict unfair, noting that the newspaper report was based on a government study.

In response to Kelly's charges, Nazriev said the Tajik government has asked for a comprehensive investigation of the attack on Sayfullozoda and that the legal aspects of the dispute between "Paykon" and the Justice Ministry must be properly addressed. He added that "Millat" has appealed the court ruling, which will be referred to a higher court.

Read more in Tajik here