ALTHOUGH CIVIL WAR NO LONGER RAGES IN TAJIKISTAN, popular unrest and an increasingly authoritarian regime have made conditions hard for journalists in the republic. Reporting remains a dangerous profession, especially for the few journalists who dare to investigate power struggles in the political and military elite or trafficking in weapons and drugs by criminal mafias. According to local journalists, local law enforcement agencies are responsible for much of the harassment, beatings, and threats that they endure.
International observers of the parliamentary elections in February and March, including a joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, condemned state interference in the electoral process. Local press coverage of the campaigns overwhelmingly favored the ruling People’s Democratic Party of President Imomali Rakhmonov, which retained nearly all important government posts and dominated Parliament after the elections.
Article 135(2) of the Tajik Penal Code stipulates that “the distribution of clearly false information defaming a person’s honor, dignity, or reputation” is punishable by up to two years in jail. Article 137 stipulates a punishment of up to five years imprisonment for insulting or defaming the president. No journalist was jailed under these provisions in 2000. Instead, attacks on the press took a more violent form.
On May 12 in the capital, Dushanbe, armed men in military uniforms assaulted Saifadin Dostiev, a correspondent for the Tajik-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Dostiev was badly beaten. On August 27, CPJ sources reported the beating of Nematulloi Nurullo, a journalist for the paper Jumhuriyat, who was allegedly assaulted by two Dushanbe policemen and received serious injuries, including a concussion and hearing loss in one ear.
Dodojon Atovullo, editor of the Russian-language paper Chroghi Ruz, which is now being published in Moscow, claimed that Tajik officials had taken out a contract on his life. The officials were angered, he told CPJ, by articles and interviews in which he accused government authorities of patronizing drug trafficking in Central Asia. Atovullo claimed that the Tajik government had asked Russian authorities to extradite him, forcing the journalist to flee to Germany.
On May 20, unknown individuals murdered Saifulo Rahimov, president of Tajikistan’s State TV and Radio Committee. CPJ sources in the region believe the killing was motivated by political intrigue, rather than Rahimov’s journalistic work. They also cited a possible financial motive, since the government had earmarked huge funds for state television.
On August 5, the weekly newspaper Najot was banned from sale at the Sharki Ozod center, where most newspapers are printed and sold. The newspaper, which is published by an opposition Islamic party, also claimed that a number of journalists at the paper received threatening calls during the month of August. The editor, Muhiddin Idizod, was beaten up on the street earlier in the year, according to local sources.
In May, Umed Mamadponoev, an employee of the state radio station Gosteleradio in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan, disappeared after the Tajik KGB interrogated him in connection with a program he had recently produced on the appalling living conditions of soldiers in the Tajik army. Mamadponoev’s piece mentioned that many soldiers from Gorno-Badakhshan had died or been injured during their service. After local and international protests, it emerged that Mamadponoev had been conscripted into the army in retaliation for his broadcast. Colleagues who visited him in the fall of 2000 said he was in good health.
Tajikistan embraced the Internet only in January 1999, when the Ministry of Communications set up the republic’s first Internet Service Provider (ISP). Though access is expensive for ordinary Tajiks, there are now four ISPs in the country and, so far, no legislation governing use of the Internet.