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 poor in 2008 due to President Emomali Rahmon’s marginalization of independent news reporting over the last several years. Libel and criticism of the president are criminal offenses that carry prison terms of up to four years. Prosecutors charged two journalists with libel in September, and their cases were pending at the end of the year. One of the two, Tursunali Aliev, had published articles in the newspaper Tong criticizing authorities in Sugd province for improperly privatizing state companies. The other, Dodojon Avotulloev, the exiled editor in chief of the opposition newspaper Charogh-i-Ruz, was charged with libel, sedition, and slandering the president for critical articles he had written. In October, the government ignored an international conference at which local and international groups called for the decriminalization of libel and criticism of the president. The parliament passed an access to information law in June, but government officials found numerous ways to obstruct and delay journalists’ requests for documents and basic public information. State-run media outlets have marginally better access to information, as ministries will occasionally provide them with updates.
Violence against journalists has declined in recent years, but reports of threats and intimidation continued in cases where journalists criticized authorities or exposed government corruption. In August, a senior official in the southern province of Kulyab assaulted Jurakhon Kabirov of the local newspaper Millat in retaliation for an article that criticized the official’s work. Other journalists received warnings over the telephone, faced unauthorized searches, or were denied access to information and press conferences after reporting independently on politically sensitive topics.
The government maintained its stranglehold on the media in 2008 through direct and indirect ownership, politicized licensing requirements, control of printing and transmission facilities, and subsidies. Although there were over 170 registered newspapers, none operated daily, and the broadcast industry was dominated by state-controlled national television stations that praised Rahmon and denied coverage to independent or opposition points of view. There are a number of independent news outlets, but many practice self-censorship for fear of government retribution, and the television industry is notoriously difficult for new companies to enter. The work of the Licensing Commission, the state body that issues broadcasting licenses, remained secretive and highly politicized in 2008. In April, the commission denied licenses to five independent radio stations because they had received some of their equipment from an international organization. The commission also continued denying a license to the British Broadcasting Corporation after revoking its previous license in 2006.The internet is still a relatively new medium in Tajikistan, and because of financial and other constraints, less than 7 percent of the population accessed it in 2008. Nonetheless, authorities have become increasingly concerned about the greater media freedom on the web and have imposed a variety of restrictions. The government began blocking critical websites in 2006, and in 2007 Rahmon extended criminal libel and defamation laws to internet publications, exposing online journalists to fines in excess of US$5,000 and up to two years in prison. Authorities continued blocking critical websites in 2008, particularly in January, when news and commentary focused on energy shortages during a particularly cold winter.