DUSHANBE -- Tajik authorities have again failed to fully grant the accreditation requests of RFE/RL journalists and staff members.
The ministry has been reluctant since late October to fully grant one-year accreditations to 18 RFE/RL journalists and staff members of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Radio Ozodi, whose credentials have been withheld by the ministry or expired on November 1.
The Tajik Foreign Ministry said on January 21 it had issued 6-month accreditations to four employees of the bureau, including a driver. Accreditations for seven other journalists, including two former bureau chiefs, whom RFE/RL's Tajik Service had to replace due to the lack of accreditation, are pending, it added.
The partial fulfillment of the request mirrors a similar move on October 31, when the ministry granted partial accreditation to seven journalists -- six for six months each and one for three months -- while continuing to withhold it from 11 others.
Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. State Department, reminded Tajik officials earlier in January that the role of independent media is "critical" in the development of any country..."and particularly as Tajikistan goes into an election cycle with parliamentary and presidential elections [in 2020], having an active and open debate is particularly important."
"We strongly believe that Radio Liberty [RFE/RL] reporters should receive accreditation...in a timely manner," she said afterward in an interview with RFE/RL.
In a letter to Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin in October, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said the ministry's decision to withhold accreditation from some members of its 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 in October 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 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."