Attacks on the Press 2006: Tajikistan


President Imomali Rakhmonov buried independent and international media under a blizzard of arbitrary licensing regulations, content restrictions, and fees. Though Rakhmonov faced no strong opposition in the November presidential election, his administration limited critical news coverage in the run-up to his victory over four little-known opponents. Regulatory agencies—wary, too, of the sort of news coverage that helped fuel the 2005 uprising in neighboring Kyrgyzstan—moved aggressively to block international media from the public airwaves and to impose onerous controls on independent domestic media.

No daily newspapers circulated in Tajikistan; independent weeklies were suppressed; foreign television and radio stations were barred from the airwaves; and critical Internet news sites were blocked. Rakhmonov and his ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan appeared firmly ensconced politically; the constitution allows him to seek re-election through 2020. Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri, once seen as Rakhmonov’s strongest opponent, died of cancer in August, and his Islamic Renaissance Party did not participate in the presidential race. Article 137 of the criminal code forbids public criticism of the president and sets a penalty of up to five years in prison; other sections of the code make it a crime to insult one’s dignity.

During the year, parliament passed more than 40 new amendments to its media laws, including one that required all nonstate media outlets to obtain licenses from the Ministry of Culture, the independent news agency Asia Plus reported. The new regulations hardly seemed necessary for a government already adept at using existing regulatory tools. Foreign television stations have been available by satellite only since 2005, when government regulators removed the Russian television networks Channel One and RTV from the airwaves, according to the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT).

In January, government regulators suspended FM broadcasts of the BBC, saying the network had not complied with new requirements to register with the Ministry of Justice and obtain a license from the Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting of Tajikistan. The BBC said it was given 20-day notice of the new regulatory process—which required six months to complete. By July, the government had rejected the BBC’s application outright, saying that it also needed a reciprocal broadcast licensing agreement between Tajikistan and Britain. The Tajik government did allow the BBC to open a news bureau in the capital, Dushanbe.

Broadcast news is the dominant source of information for citizens. In a country where the average monthly salary is just over US$27, few have access to satellite television or the Internet, according to data from the World Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. Broadcast television is dominated by three national state-run stations: Tajik, Soghd, and Khatlon.

Regulators and courts were active in stifling independent domestic broadcasters. In June, the Ministry of Communications barred eight independent television and radio companies from sharing news and entertainment video, saying the exchange would violate licensing laws, the Khujand-based Tajik news agency Varorud reported.

Somonien, which was the last independent television station operating in Dushanbe, lost a court appeal in January that sought to overturn a 2005 State Licensing Commission decision to close the station and seize its equipment because of unpaid fees. Somonien staff said the Ministry of Communications had imposed higher fees in retaliation for the station’s broadcasting of opposition views during the 2005 parliamentary election, the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) said.

Three independent provincial television stations—Isfara in the city of Isfara, Simo in the city of Panjakent, and Usturushana in the city of Istaravshan—settled a Ministry of Communications lawsuit in January over broadcast fees, the independent news agency Avesta reported. The ministry had raised fees to levels that the stations were unable to pay. As part of the settlement, the stations agreed to carry the state-produced program “Minbari Hukumat” (Government Tribune), according to Internews, a U.S.-based media training and advocacy organization.

The government increased funding to state television and radio stations by 25 percent, bringing the overall budget to the equivalent of US$1.25 million, IWPR reported. Independent stations typically have their own studios and broadcast equipment but depend on government-owned transmission equipment to get their signals into people’s homes. The government interrupts transmission of these independent broadcasts to carry Rakhmonov’s speeches, the BBC reported.

The once-popular independent weeklies Nerui Sukhan, Ruzi Nav, and Odamu Olan remained out of circulation in 2006. The three newspapers were forced out of print in 2004 as a result of politicized tax and regulatory inspections. CPJ sources said editors and publishers involved in the newspapers sought permission to resume publication, to no avail.

There are no daily newspapers, independent or state-run, functioning in the country. On October 4, the Ministry of Culture sent a letter to the private Dushanbe printing company Shafei, instructing it to stop printing the opposition weekly Adolat, according to international press reports. The ministry said it did not recognize the Democratic Party’s leadership; Adolat staff protested the decision and continued to produce its newspaper using office copy machines. The paper had just resumed publication in September after regaining a license the government had pulled in 2004, according to NANSMIT.

Government officials moved to limit access to Internet publications, among the few remaining sources for independent news. On October 7, authorities blocked local access to five Web sites carrying Tajik and Central Asian news published from abroad, NANSMIT head Nuriddin Karshiboyev said. The sites—Centrasia, Ferghana, Arianastorm, Charogiruz, and Tajikistantimes—often cover human right abuses and restrictive government policies in Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries. Anvar Mamadzhanov, a senior official at the Ministry of Communications, instructed Tajik Internet providers to filter Web sites for security reasons and to block access to those that carry reports that “undermine state media policy,” the independent Russian-language weekly Business and Politics reported. The ministry later revised its position to say that the sites were closed for maintenance purposes, according to the BBC.

The government broadened its restrictive policies toward independent media to include nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), especially those receiving grants from abroad. In March, the government approved substantial revisions to the Law on Public Associations, requiring NGOs to register annually, according to IWPR. Critics said that the new law, which was to take effect in 2007, would be used arbitrarily to deny registration to NGOs, including those supporting the independent media.

A decade after the 1992-97 civil conflict, the wartime murders of 29 journalists remained unsolved. According to CPJ research, 17 journalists were killed because of their professional activities in that period, while another 12 died in unclear circumstances.