Country Summary

Despite peace talks, civil war flared again in Tajikistan, and the forces opposing President Imomali Rakhmonov’s autocratic rule seized control of several key provincial towns in clashes with Tajik government and Russian troops. Sporadic fighting in and around Dushanbe and other cities has created difficulties for both local and foreign (mainly Russian) journalists attempting to cover events. At times of particular intensity in the conflict, Tajik and Russian officials have discouraged or condemned the coverage by the foreign press corps. In August, for example, the Russian border guards’ press service accused Radio Liberty’s Dushanbe correspondents of “disinformation.”

Journalists reported several incidents of censorship or confiscation of film to the Glasnost Defense Foundation in Moscow. On May 7, for example, the Tajik Minister of Culture and Information prohibited RTV (Russian State Television) correspondent Tatayana Logunova from filing a report about the murder of two professors in Dushanbe, explaining that the story could “hurt the republic’s international image.” Unidentified troops briefly detained a Western news crew traveling near a border zone, and questioned them at gunpoint. Later, equipment and notebooks were taken from the news crew’s parked vehicle.

All Tajik media are state-controlled, and opposition newspapers published by Tajik refugees in Moscow, such as Charogi-ruz, are banned by the Supreme Court and regularly confiscated from travelers. Several new literary and cultural newspapers have emerged, and have cautiously and indirectly raised some political points. As in the Soviet era, many Tajiks rely on Radio Liberty’s Tajik-language broadcasts as an alternative source for domestic news. Against the odds, one commercial features service, Asia-Plus, began operation in Dushanbe this year, providing news on business, international aid organizations, and Tajiks’ social ills­stories often neglected by the official press. But the agency’s dispatch writers did not risk tackling controversial topics such as the civil war and refrained from criticizing the government. In December, the Tajik government passed a broadcasting law, the first in any Central Asian republic to regulate procedures for obtaining frequency licenses. The mere appearance of a law that explains how to get a license holds out some hope to prospective independent broadcasters.

Russian television­even channels heavily controlled by the Kremlin­provides a welcome supplement to the Tajik government’s sparse and dull fare. Tajik viewers appreciate Russian television for its reporting from within Tajikistan and its neighbors that is unavailable on Tajik state television. But such reporting comes at a price: Russian journalists regard Dushanbe as one of the most dangerous assignments in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Viktor Nikulin, the Tajikistan bureau chief for ORT (Russian Public Television) was murdered in March­the 29th journalist documented by CPJ as killed in the line of duty in Tajikistan since 1992. Although there were no other reported killings of journalists this year, the Tajik government’s failure to prosecute these 29 cases means that Tajikistan remains one of the most perilous countries in the world for journalists.

On Aug. 21, the Supreme Court in Dushanbe convicted and meted out death sentences to two men, Abdunabi Boronov and Nurali Janjolov, for the murder of Zayniddin Muhiddinov, a member of Parliament and editor of a local newspaper. According to the opposition Radio Voice of Free Tajikistan, Boronov and Janjolov were members of the People’s Front, which had helped bring the present government to power. Muhiddinov, formerly a collective farm chairman, was not included in CPJ’s list of journalists killed in the line of duty because his murder on March 13, 1995, shortly after his election to the Tajik Parliament, appeared to be related to his political rather than journalistic activity. The opposition radio claimed that the conviction, which it described as the first in four years for a journalist’s murder, proved the fallacy of the government’s position that the opposition is responsible for the murder of journalists.

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