The authorities continued their extensive harassment of independent newspapers and refused to issue operating licences to privately-owned TV and radio stations. Murders of journalists remained mostly unpunished.

A referendum on 22 June 2003 approved (by 93%) a proposal to allow President Emomali Rahmonov, in power since 1992, to stand for re-election until 2020. Several independent newspapers were warned and local access to an Internet website blocked for criticising the referendum, which the opposition dismissed as a Soviet-style sham.

The independent written press continued to grow slowly in the face of broad harassment by the authorities, who also failed to provide the media with public data such as health and mining statistics despite a legal requirement to do so. The state printers, Sharki Ozod, which has a virtual monopoly, prevented publication in November of the opposition weekly Ruzi Nav, which since August had fiercely criticised the government.

The broadcasting sector remains primitive and most stations, whether state or privately-owned, break into their programmes when the president makes an announcement or meets a foreign official. The state broadcasting commission still refused to grant new operating licences to privately-owned media, such as the Asia+ group, which failed to get one in September to set up a TV station of the same name.

The alleged killers of three journalists were convicted in 2003, but the murders of about 30 journalists killed during the civil war in the 1990s remain unpunished.

New information about journalists killed before 2003

A court in Dushanbe sentenced Rakhim Qalandarov to death in mid-January 2003 for the murder of state broadcasting commission president Saifullo Rakhimov outside his home on 12 May 2000. The authorities said the accused had tried to destabilise the political situation by killing Rakhimov.

Akhtam Toirov and Narzibek Davlatov were jailed for 22 and 15 years respectively on 29 July for killing Muhiddin Olimpur, Dushanbe correspondent for the Persian-language service of the British radio BBC, on 12 December 1995, and Viktor Nikulin, correspondent of the Russian TV station ORT, who was murdered on 28 March 1996. The court said they had acted on the orders of the late Nozim Yunusov, a leader of the United Tajik Opposition, which fought the country's pro-Russian government during the 1992-97 civil war.

Olimpur's body was found near the state university in Dushanbe. He had been shot in the head. A well-known figure, he was also a photographer, filmmaker and man of letters, focusing on cultural news but also reporting on local political and social matters.

Harassment and obstruction

The entire press carried an open letter on 10 April 2003 signed by 29 media and journalists' organisation officials calling on the government to help the media grow by exempting newspapers for 10 years from a sales tax that added 20 percent to production costs. In mid-September the authorities said they would consider the request.

Access to the anti-government news website, founded on 1 March by exiled opposition journalist Dodojon Atovulloyev, was blocked on 24 April. Atovulloev said this was because all political dissidence was considered an offence. The site had carried many articles quoting political leaders and experts on the subject of an upcoming 22 June constitutional referendum that many saw as aiming to extend President Rahmonov's term of office. The British BBC radio and the German radio station Deutsche Welle said the website had been blocked by the national security ministry. At the end of the year, it was still inaccessible in Tajikistan.

Zafar Kurbanov, head of the broadcasting company Jahon, said on 26 May he had complained to the president, to parliament and to the local office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that he had been waiting for more than two years for an operating licence. He said the state broadcasting commission was functioning illegally.

A new law on 28 May reduced the advertising revenue of privately-owned newspapers and radio and TV stations by limiting ads to 30 percent of daily air-time and 40 percent of daily newspaper space.

Mukhtor Bokhizod, editor of the opposition weekly Neru-i-Sokhan, which was launched in January, was summoned by the state prosecutor's office in June and warned for printing criticism of the constitutional referendum to be held later that month.

Marat Mamadshoyev, a senior staffer of the weekly Asia+, was summoned and warned by top state security officials on 1 August for revealing a state secret in a 24 July report about the eviction of people near the capital because their houses were in the way of a military airfield being built. They asked him what his sources were but he refused to say. By the end of the year, no action had been taken against the paper.

Only reporters of the official media were allowed to attend a press conference given by US Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the US Central Command, on 11 August. Foreign reporters were turned away at the door.

The state printing firm Sharki Ozod refused on 27 November to print the Tajik-language opposition weekly Ruzi Nav. The firm's chief, Manzurkhon Dadakhanov, said he was severing ties with the paper, without saying why. The paper, founded in August and close to the opposition Tajikistan Democratic Party, publishes harsh criticism of President Rahmonov. The prosecutor-general's office threatened it with legal action on 23 December for violating the press law by affronting the president's dignity when it printed an open letter early that month to the president and Dushanbe mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidolloev from a resident of the capital who accused Rahmonov of causing the country's social and economic problems.

Taxation ministry employees seized 4,000 copies of the opposition weekly Neru-i-Sokhan on 29 December on grounds that its print-run was bigger than the figure announced to the authorities and that the name of its printers was not mentioned in the paper. Editor Bokhizod said the authorities were trying to intimidate him into changing his editorial line, which they considered too independent.


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