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Tajikistan

Key Developments

» Experts say new media law represents progress, but requires improvement.

» Journalists, news outlets continue to face defamation lawsuits.

Though a new media bill was signed into law, the legislation failed to decriminalize insulting the president or alleviate other repressive measures, and had no immediate effect on the climate of press freedom ahead of the November presidential vote. To pave the way for a smooth re-election of Emomali Rahmon to a fourth term in office, authorities continued to gag critical voices by using a set of repressive tactics: intimidation of journalists by security services, denial of accreditation, and exhaustive litigation. The state communications agency ordered Internet service providers to block access to news websites and social networking sites, including Facebook and YouTube. Two independent regional broadcasters accused the authorities of jamming their satellite signal at least three times during the year. In November, Rahmon was declared a winner of another seven-year term in office; his rival quit the race, citing obstruction by the elections commission.



  • 29

    Legal provisions that need changing
  • 50,000

    Somoni in damages
  • 131

    Websites blocked
  • 2

    Broadcasters under official pressure
 

In April, media experts contracted by the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the pan-European human rights and security watchdog, presented their review of the media law that President Rahmon had signed a month earlier. The experts welcomed the new legislation, but said it needed more work.

Four of the 29 provisions that should be changed, according to OSCE:

1

Insult of the president should be decriminalized.

2

The definition of censorship should be expanded to include the ban on post-production censorship.
3 Broadcast media, which is subject to licensing under the new law, should be freed from the required registration process.
4 The provision on the protection of journalists' sources should be expanded to include what qualifies as legitimate requirements to reveal the sources.
 

In February, a district court in the capital, Dushanbe, ordered the independent weekly Imruz News to pay 50,000 somoni (US$10,500) in damages to Rustam Hukumov, the son of a high-ranking government official, who had filed a defamation lawsuit against the paper.

Tajik officials and residents alike continued to exhaust critical news outlets and individual reporters with time-consuming and costly court battles by accusing them of defamation or insult of honor and dignity.


An emblematic case:

October 2012

Imruz News publishes an article alleging that Russian authorities freed Hukumov from jail in exchange for Tajikistan's release of two imprisoned Russian pilots. Hukumov was sentenced to nine and a half years on drug trafficking charges in September 2010, but was acquitted on appeal and released a year later.

January 2013

Hukumov files a defamation lawsuit against Imruz News, seeking 50,000 somoni in damages.

February 2013

A Dushanbe district court rules against Imruz News and orders the paper to pay the damages.

June 2013

An appeals court upholds the verdict against the newspaper.
 

According to the Dushanbe-based National Association of Independent Mass Media, Tajik authorities issued orders to block access to 131 websites in January. At least three news websites as well as the social networking sites YouTube and Facebook were among those blocked. Authorities cited alleged public complaints over insulting online commentaries as a reason for the action.

Internet penetration in Tajikistan has been on the rise in the past five years, as are official attempts to censor the Web.

Internet penetration in Tajikistan, according to the International Telecommunication Union:
 

Print journalists and news websites were not the only ones targeted by the authorities during the year--independent broadcasters also reported getting caught in official crosshairs.


Broadcasters under fire:

Radio Ozodi

In January, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that Tajik authorities not only blocked its regional news service Radio Ozodi but also refused to reconsider a June 2012 decision to deny accreditation to a veteran reporter. Radio Ozodi often criticized Tajik authorities for government corruption, human rights abuses, and poor social and economic policies. The block lasted a few days.

K-Plus

According to news reports, the opposition Kazakh broadcaster K-Plus accused Tajik authorities of blocking its website and jamming satellite signal in late May and early July. Both times, interference with the signal followed the broadcaster’s critical coverage of President Rahmon and his personal life.
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