President Imomali Rakhmonov consolidated his authoritarian rule in 2004, arresting political opponents and cracking down on opposition newspapers. Authorities employed bureaucratic and legal harassment in a broad campaign to silence criticism of the president and his allies ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for February 2005.
Rakhmonov reminded journalists of their obligation to support the state in a March 20 address. “The media, regardless of ownership, are equally responsible for observing the current laws and ensuring the country’s information and cultural security,” Rakhmonov was quoted as saying on the Web site Eurasianet.org. “This responsibility demands of journalists a developed sense … of patriotism and the protection of Tajikistan’s state and national interests.”
The government repeatedly blocked publication of Ruzi Nav (New Day) and Nerui Sokhan (Power of the Word), two popular Tajik-language opposition weeklies based in the capital, Dushanbe. Rebuffed by state-run printer Sharki Ozod, the newspapers turned to the private publishing house Dzhiyonkhon. But tax authorities shuttered Dzhiyonkhon by the summer, and other private printers refused to do business with the newspapers. By fall, Ruzi Nav turned to a printer in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, only to have the entire November 4 edition impounded by tax authorities when it arrived at the airport in Dushanbe. Later that month, the Ministry of Culture banned distribution of Ruzi Nav for unspecified violations.
Threats by authorities, who can use criminal libel laws to imprison journalists for up to five years, encouraged widespread self-censorship. In February, a Justice Ministry press officer threatened to imprison Nargis Zokirova after she wrote an article for the independent weekly Biznes i Politika (Business and Politics) about poor conditions in a woman’s prison. No charges were pressed, but such threats are not to be taken lightly in Tajikistan.
Journalists who failed to heed Rakhmonov’s call to “patriotism and protection” faced intimidation and harassment. Dodojon Atovullo, who fled Tajikistan 12 years ago after authorities banned his opposition weekly Charogi Ruz (Light of the Day), visited briefly in June to see whether he could work safely again in his native country. After four days during which police followed him and he received a death threat, Atovullo returned to Moscow.
In late July, an unidentified assailant wielding an iron bar fractured the skull of Ruzi Nav Editor-in-Chief Rajabi Mirzo. Authorities in Dushanbe blamed the attack on a mysterious “third force” trying to harm the government’s image, according to local and international press reports. In a separate case, Ruzi Nav correspondent Mavlyuda Sultanzoda and her family received numerous threats after a critical profile of Rakhmonov was published in the weekly in August. Police ignored her request for protection.
Tajikistan tilted diplomatically away from the United States and toward Russia in 2004. Rakhmonov and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement in October providing Tajikistan with military and economic assistance in exchange for allowing Russia a permanent military base in the country. Throughout 2004, Rakhmonov relied on Soviet-style propaganda to promote his image and used politicized investigations to discredit political opponents.
Military prosecutors interrogated Mirahmad Amirshoyev, editor-in-chief of Odamu Olam (People of the World), and confiscated documents from his office in August. Soon after, the Prosecutor General’s Office formally warned the newspaper that it had promoted discord by publishing articles critical of the Defense Ministry, according to the independent news agency Avesta.
In another case, Security Ministry agents raided the Tarraqiyot opposition party and charged senior party officials with criminal libel because they had drafted a letter to protest the government’s refusal to register the party, according to the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
Senior officials from the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) were prosecuted on a variety of charges, compounding an internal struggle over how to regain popular support ahead of the next elections. In January, reformists appointed Sulton Hamadov as editor-in-chief of the party newspaper Adolat (Justice) to broaden its readership beyond the party’s traditional conservative and Islamist constituency. But Hamadov was dismissed in July because party conservatives were displeased that he had published photos of women without Islamic head scarves and had interviewed former IRP members.
The legacy of the country’s brutal 1992-1997 civil war continued to discourage most journalists from reporting on government abuses. In January, after prodding by CPJ, the prosecutor general created a special investigative unit to probe the unsolved slayings of dozens of journalists that occurred during the civil war. The government reported no progress by year’s end.