New York, July 31, 2002—Three weeks after it was refused a radio license, the independent Tajik news agency Asia Plus was informed that it will receive permission to broadcast—and become the first private broadcaster to serve the capital, Dushanbe.
On July 29, Tajik president Imomali Rakhmonov met with Umed Babakhanov, director of Asia Plus, and said he would instruct the State Committee for Television and Radio to issue the license that Asia Plus has sought for four years.
The president's action overturns the committee's terse rejection of a license earlier this month. In its July 8 rejection, the committee said that a private alternative to state-run radio in Dushanbe was "unnecessary." [Click here for more details]
The agency's executive director, Daler Nurkhanov, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that the ninety-minute meeting between the president and Babakhanov was unprecedented. "The president promised that the situation will be resolved within two weeks," said Nurkhanov. "We expect to be on the air on September 9, Tajik Independence Day."
"After significant delay, we welcome the government's decision to allow an independent radio station to broadcast in Dushanbe," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. "This is a positive sign and we expect that the Tajik government will continue to follow up its words with action."
CPJ deputy director Joel Simon and Europe and Central Asia program coordinator Alex Lupis had met with Tajik foreign minister Talbak Nazarov in New York on April 19 to discuss press freedom issues. CPJ then sent a letter to Nazarov on May 8 outlining specific press freedom problems, including the inability of Asia Plus to obtain a broadcast license. [Click here for more details]
CPJ Representative Meets Tajik Ambassador
And in a meeting on July 29 in Vienna with Hamrokhon Zaripov, the Tajik ambassador to Austria, Switzerland, and Hungary, CPJ Europe and Central Asia consultant Emma Gray brought up Asia Plus' case in what was a frank two-hour discussion of press freedom issues.
During the Vienna meeting, Gray also raised the case of Dodojon Atovullo, editor and publisher of the Russian-language paper Chroghi Ruz. Ambassador Zaripov criticized what he described as the "inflammatory language" of the newspaper but said that Atovullo was free to return to Dushanbe and print Chroghi Ruz in his homeland. "He is a citizen of Tajikistan," he said. "He has not been stripped of his citizenship, and is free to return at any time."
The influential opposition newspaper is currently published in Moscow and distributed throughout Central Asia. Criminal charges were recently dropped against Atovullo, who fled in exile to Germany in May 2001 after being accused of attempting to overthrow the state as a result of critical reporting in his newspaper.
Although Ambassador Zaripov said that neither government officials, nor the judiciary nor police, has any claim on Atovullo, he did say that he believes journalists should support their country. "They do not have to be patriots," he said, "but they must not be enemies of the people."