Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution, but the media situation remained largely moribund in the wake of successful government efforts over the last few years to force independent reporting to the margins. President Emomali Rahmon demonstrated his antagonistic approach to the media during his annual address to parliament when he called for the development of a new press policy in which “the media will be expected to raise patriotism.” Criticism of the president is off-limits and can lead to prison terms of up to four years for journalists. Worse still, in October, President Rahmon signed amendments to the criminal code extending the criminalization of libel and defamation to internet publications, with the penalty of fines in excess of US$5,000 and up to two years in prison. The new amendments were put to the test almost immediately when the prosecutor’s office in the capital, Dushanbe, opened a criminal libel case against three journalists with Ovoza, an independent newspaper that had printed an article critical of singer Raikhona Rahimova. Saida Qurgonova, the editor in chief, and Muhayo Nozimov and Farangis Nabieva, both reporters with the outlet, were being held responsible for an article that quoted critical comments from an internet forum discussing a performance Rahimova had given in Afghanistan. Although the case was resolved amicably, it demonstrated that the new amendments were not merely cosmetic and that journalists could be held responsible for their use of online sources. Independent media are also routinely denied access to public documents and information. While a 2005 presidential decree requires government ministries to hold quarterly press conferences, none have done so, and no freedom of information legislation exists. State-run media outlets have only marginally better access to information, as ministries will occasionally provide them with status updates.
There were no reports of violence against journalists in 2007, but many journalists have reported acts of intimidation or harassment committed against them in previous years. In October, Makhmadullo Makhsadullo, a reporter with the independent paper Tojikiston, was detained overnight by a police officer while on his way to cover a press conference. Makhsadullo published an article about the incident, and the police officer subsequently sued him and the other outlets that rose to defend Makhsadullo. However, in a welcome development, the Supreme Court sentenced Aslan Usmanov to a 15-year prison term for acting as an accomplice in the 1995 murder of journalist Muhiddin Olimpur, former head of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Persian service in Tajikistan. Olimpur was one of many victims in a string of unsolved murders of journalists dating back to the country’s 1992–1995 civil war. Usmanov, a field commander with the United Tajik Opposition at the time of the killing, was convicted of masterminding the murder.
The government maintained its stranglehold on the media in 2007 through direct and indirect ownership, licensing requirements, control of printing and transmission facilities, and subsidies. Although there were over 200 registered newspapers, none operated daily, and the broadcast industry was monopolized by three nationally televised stations—Tajik, Soghd, and Khatlon—that are all government owned. There are a number of independent outlets in operation, but many practice self-censorship for fear of government retribution, and the television industry is notoriously difficult for new outlets to enter. The body responsible for issuing media licenses, the Licensing Commission, is neither independent from the government nor transparent. In fact, the commission withdrew the licenses for a number of independent outlets between 2004 and 2006 owing to alleged “licensing irregularities”; while some of the outlets were allowed to reopen in 2007, others remained closed at year’s end. Some international outlets were allowed to operate and broadcast within Tajikistan. However, the BBC was unable to regain its FM broadcast license in 2007 after it had been revoked in 2006. Registration difficulties also affected the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Internews, which was prevented from opening a number of community radio stations.
The internet is still a relatively new media source in Tajikistan, and because of financial and other constraints, less than 0.5 percent accessed it in 2007. Nonetheless, the government still restricts this electronic medium: Beginning in 2006, websites critical of the government were blocked, and new internet-focused libel legislation was passed in 2007.