New York, April 28, 2020 – Tajikistan authorities should immediately restore access to the independent regional news website Akhbor and allow its correspondents to report without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On April 9, the country’s Supreme Court announced a decision to formally block access to Akhbor and prohibited the outlet from operating in the country, according to news reports, a report by the website, and Mirzo Salimpur, Akhbor’s founder and editor-in-chief, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
The website’s Tajik page has been inaccessible in the country since 2017, and its Russian page has been blocked since 2019, according to Akhbor. The court’s ruling formalizes those blocks into law and also imposes potential criminal charges on journalists who work with the outlet, according to those news reports and Salimpur.
“Tajikistan’s decision to block access to the Akhbor news website is not just blatant censorship, but an act that potentially puts people’s lives in danger amid the coronavirus pandemic, when independent media is more important than ever,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Tajik authorities should reinstate access to Akhbor and allow independent reporting in the country.”
According to a statement published by the state news agency Khovar, authorities accused Akhbor of publishing “terrorist, extremist” content and spreading “deliberately false and inflammatory information.” That statement said that the court’s decision was made in response to a complaint filed by the prosecutor general in December 2019.
Salimpur told CPJ that he believed the Supreme Court may have acted now due to Akhbor’s April 5 report on the country’s first alleged death from the coronavirus pandemic. Tajik authorities have denied that anyone has contracted COVID-19 in the country, according to reports.
Akhbor has operated from Prague since 2016, and has correspondents in Tajikistan and other countries in the region, Salimpur said.
CPJ filed a request for comment to the prosecutor general on the office’s official website, but did not receive any reply.