‘Total Control’: RSF Condemns Spate Of Media Arrests In Tajikistan, Warns Of Persecution

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arrests of four independent journalists in Tajikistan, accusing the government of the Central Asian nation of stepping up its persecution of the media.

The journalism watchdog said in a statement dated July 27 that the detention of Abdullo Ghurbati, a correspondent for the independent Asia-Plus news agency; Daler Imomali, a freelance investigative reporter; and two journalists who used to work with them, Zavqibek Saidamini and Abdusattor Pirmukhamadzoda, should be released immediately.

“As a result of the increase in censorship and defamatory practices towards the media, journalists risks imprisonment after every investigative story,” Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in the statement.

“The Tajik authorities must stop using spurious accusations to silence reporters critical of the government, and must release those they have detained,” she added.

Last month, police in Dushanbe arrested Imomali and Ghurbati, who focus on social and economic issues in the country. Imomali was charged with having links to banned organizations, tax evasion, and disseminating false information. Ghurbati is accused of assaulting a police officer.

Pirmuhammadzoda was detained in his hometown of Vahdat, 15 kilometers east of Dushanbe, on July 9. A day earlier, police in Vahdat arrested independent reporter Saidamini and charged him with participating in an extremist group.

According to prosecutors, the charge stems from Saidamini’s links to two banned opposition parties -- the Islamic Renaissance Party and Group 24. He has repeatedly denied supporting any political group.

The arrests are seen by some local experts as the authoritarian government’s attempt to control public opinion in the wake of Dushanbe’s bloody crackdown on protests in the restive Gorno-Badakhshan region in the country’s east.

“The authorities are trying to establish total control over public opinion in the country,” Nuriddin Karshiboyev, the head of the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan (NANSMIT), an RSF partner, said in the statement.

“But there is no guarantee that the authorities will benefit from doing this. These actions will result in a negative reaction from the international community and will ultimately have a very bad effect on Tajikistan’s image,” Karshiboyev added.

Tajikistan strictly controls the media in the country and shows little tolerance for any criticism of government policies.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, police harassed local journalists for merely questioning health officials who initially insisted there was no coronavirus in Tajikistan, despite abundant suspected cases.

The government has also shut down independent media outlets and restricted access to foreign-based Tajik-language online publications.

Tajik police routinely target family members of government critics who live abroad.

Tajikistan ranked 152 out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.