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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Tajikistan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Tajikistan, February 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5655123.html [accessed 14 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

After four years of civil war, which claimed the lives of at least 29 journalists, autocratic president Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri concluded a peace accord in June. The rivals began to work out a power-sharing agreement through the National Reconciliation Commission in anticipation of parliamentary elections in 1998. But sporadic fighting in and around Dushanbe and other cities continued to create difficulties for both local and foreign (mainly Russian) journalists. When the conflict was at its worst, Tajik and Russian officials discouraged or condemned the coverage by the foreign press corps.

For the first time since 1992, no journalists were killed, but no action was taken to advance the investigations into the still-unsolved murders or to prosecute the perpetrators of killings from previous years. According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation, some 30 independent publications were shut down during the civil war, and at least 100 journalists fled the country in fear of reprisal; none have returned to date. Death threats to correspondents continue unabated, and Tajikistan joined the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya as the most dangerous areas of the former Soviet Union for journalists, owing to the insidious practice of hostage-taking.

While often accused of inaction by desperate journalists, Russian consular officials did at times intervene on their behalf. But Russian officials were powerless to prevent such incidents as the blocking of press accreditation for Moscow's former Communist newspaper, Pravda-5, or the abduction of four Russian journalists for 11 days in February.

The Charter of the National Reconciliation Commission promises regular press briefings by the commission, and includes language supporting equal access for government and opposition mass media to its activities. But the commission has not been as forthcoming with information as promised, and the notion of unbiased professional media coverage has not yet taken root – as evidenced by a death threat against Radio Liberty correspondent Jovid Mukimov.

On September 25, a bomb exploded in the building that houses Khovar, the state news agency, and other state-sponsored publications, reportedly causing minor injuries to journalists. The attack fit a pattern of a dozen such bombings of visible targets in September and October, designed to discourage the opposition's return to Dushanbe. While not directed at journalists as such, the bombing did serve to highlight the continued vulnerability of reporters who work for the state.

An electronic broadcasting law passed in December 1996 held out the promise of more opportunity for Tajikistan's fledgling independent media. But in July, President Rakhmonov ordered the temporary closure of non-state television and radio companies until they were licensed, and the appropriation of technical equipment from some local stations for use by state television, ostensibly to improve its quality. Except for national and regional state television, no stations could continue broadcasting until the government officially set the price for a license.

In August, the Ministry of Culture and Information was divided into the Ministry of Culture and Press, and the State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting. The new broadcasting body was placed directly under the president's control, and was supposed to form a subcommittee to issue licenses. That month, the government told officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that applications would not be reviewed until the national reconciliation process was further advanced, but offered no specifics.

Despite repeated attempts, journalists, foreign embassies, and human rights organizations were unable to obtain a copy of the president's closure order. Apparently, some stations which began broadcasting before 1994 received temporary permission to operate, but procedures for the majority of stations to get new licenses remained unclear. Several local stations that submitted documents to authorities were ignored.

As in other countries in the region, politics and the media remain closely intertwined. The president's order should have closed Poitakt, a television station in Dushanbe, but it remained in operation, apparently because the city's mayor owns a majority stake in the station. Stations were also ordered shut down in Isfara, Kanibadam, Ura Tube, and Pendjikent, but they continued to broadcast, because of their close relationships with local officials. On the other hand, three local stations in Tursanzade, Vose, and Khojand were closed by those cities' mayors – and the station in Vose had already paid a fee of US$1,500 to the Ministry of Communications for a channel.

On December 3, the State TV and Radio Committee finally issued the first long-term license, to the private TV Studio "Mavchi ozod." The studio was awarded a five-year license to produce and broadcast television programs in the Vose region for 18 hours a day every other day on odd days. The move was viewed as a victory for private broadcasters, as another dozen private stations were expected to get licenses in the ensuing months.

Yet the licensing process remains unfair. State-run television should not be empowered to license or restrict the operation of its competitors. The "Mavchi Ozod" TV Studio was denied rights to rebroadcast foreign programs, and was limited to broadcasting only on odd days. The local government in Vose has set up its own transmitter on the same frequency as the station. All these are clear efforts by the authorities to squeeze out private competitors.

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