The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to take urgent action to ensure that Tajik journalists, including RFE/RL correspondents, can report unhindered and that Tajik citizens have access to independent sources of information ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.
The New York-based media rights watchdog, in an October 25 letter addressed to Rahmon, voiced serious concern about media censorship, threats to journalists, and administrative obstacles they face in acquiring accreditation.
In the letter, the CPJ said it has "learned that nine journalists and support staff for the Tajik-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), known locally as Radio Ozodi, are currently prevented from working because they have not been credentialed by the Foreign Ministry."
It also expressed "serious concerns regarding threats to journalists, censorship of independent news outlets and the internet, and restrictions on accreditation of journalists in Tajikistan."
It added that "as your country is preparing to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in 2020, we urge you to take immediate steps to ensure journalists can report the news freely and safely and that the public can access independent sources of information."
The letter said that harassment against journalists in Tajikistan has expanded to their family members, highlighting the case of exiled Tajik journalist Humayra Bakhtiyar, whose "family members living in Tajikistan have been surveilled and threatened for years as retribution for her critical reporting."
"This creates a chilling effect on journalists who should have the right to report without fear of reprisal. It is essential that these threats are investigated and that those who made them are held responsible," said the letter, signed by CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.
The media watchdog also pointed to reports that social networks and messaging apps are blocked periodically in the country, "hindering journalists’ ability to report and access information."
"Censorship of independent media and social networks is a violation of the right of access to information and is inconsistent with your country’s international human rights commitments," Simon said in the letter.
Ahead of next year's parliamentary and presidential poll, "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," the CPJ letter concludes.
In a separate letter addressed to Rahmon on October 25, U.S. Senators James Risch (Republican-Idaho), Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), Marco Rubio (Republian-Florida), and Robert Casey (Democrat-Pennsylvania) referred to the fact that Radio Ozodi journalists have been denied accreditation and expressed concern that this could lead to “repercussions for the strengthening of the U.S.-Tajik relationship.”
The senators added that “it is critical that Tajikistan allows Radio Ozodi and other media outlets to operate freely.”