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Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Tajikistan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1999
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Tajikistan, February 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c56589c.html [accessed 18 December 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.

As of December 31, 1998

Although Tajikistan's four-year civil war came to an end in June 1997, the peace process has been constantly threatened by disputes between the government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), the two main parties to the peace agreement. Violence against peacekeepers has also been a serious deterrent to peace efforts.

In July, four members of a U.N. observer mission were ambushed and killed, and on September 22, Otakhon Latifi, a leading opposition figure and former Pravda correspondent, was shot dead. Numerous rebel-led insurgencies in various parts of the country also dealt a blow to the peace process.

In this ongoing climate of violence and political factionalism, it has been difficult for an independent press – decimated during the civil war, when at least 29 journalists were murdered – to take root and thrive. And it is still dangerous for those reporters who try to cover political developments and conflicts. Sedzhar Khamidov, a Russian Television correspondent, was wounded in the head in November as he filmed government troops storming the regional airport at Chkalovsk, which had been seized by rebels.

Journalists have been targeted for abuse ranging from physical attacks to harassment. According to the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation, on October 1, two masked individuals burst into the apartment of Maksujon Guseinov, a correspondent of the independent newspaper Charkhi Gardun, severely beat his wife, and searched the apartment. Although Guseinov was not at home at the time of the assault, the assailants made clear the purpose of their visit by telling his wife that he should "stop writing."

Officials, opposition parties, and local warlords continued to show little tolerance for journalists who scrutinize the peace process and other domestic political issues. In July, Tajikistan's Minister of Foreign Affairs revoked the accreditation of Yelena Masyuk, a correspondent for the Russian television station NTV and a 1997 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award. The Tajik Interior Ministry issued a statement claiming that Masyuk's reports on Tajik politics "aim to discredit the Tajik government ... and amount to interference in the sovereign affairs of a home state." The Foreign Ministry further threatened to suspend NTV's work in Tajikistan if the company made an issue out of Masyuk's expulsion.

The government actively sought to control the press in other ways. During the first half of the year, newspapers affiliated with opposition parties were harassed and pressured to close, and state-run printing presses, which monopolize the industry, stopped printing them. Under terms of the peace agreement, however, opposition political parties and their media outlets will be permitted to re-register following the demobilization of opposition military units, a process which is expected to come to a close in early 1999.

More subtle forms of harassment of the press were also common. Economic pressure on independent or opposition media, such as harassment by the tax police, compounded their chronic financial difficulties. The pressures are also political. In May, the Majlisi Oli (parliament) adopted a law "on the defense of the honor and dignity of the president" which, among other things, set out excessive fines and prison sentences for journalists or media outlets deemed to insult or slander the president. Fortunately, President Imomali Rakhmonov vetoed the legislation in response to international pressure.

There are approximately 10 independent newspapers, although most of them avoid politically sensitive topics, and journalists who do write about politics generally know where to draw the line of acceptability. This form of self-censorship seems to have taken the place of an official censorship policy. The government did, however, routinely attempt to influence the content of material on the more than a dozen independent television stations, using the regulatory mechanisms in its arsenal to pressure them to toe the official line. The State Committee of TV and Radio, which issues licenses, often delays or denies licenses for independent broadcasters.

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