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World Press Freedom Review
2001 World Press Freedom Review
Journalists working in Tajikistan, one of five Central Asian republics that gained independence when the Soviet Union collapsed, enjoy a very limited version of press freedom. Certain topics are taboo, particularly criticism of President Imomali Rakhmonov and the ruling party. As a result, journalists censor themselves to avoid confrontations with authorities. Indeed, many restrictive measures remain in place since the 1998 decision by the government to extend its power over the media by amending the media law. The amendments gave the official broadcasting committee the right to control the content of any programme or material either before or after its production.
The government also manages the only publishing house in Tajikistan and has the power to prevent the printing of certain articles. There are very few signs that this situation is about to change soon: as the authorities showed this year, they will go to extreme lengths to persecute individuals that incur their anger.
On 6 July, Russian police arrested Tajik journalist Dododjon Atovullo at the Sheremetevo airport in Moscow. The arrest, whilst Atovullo was about to fly to Uzbekistan, was undertaken at the request of Tajik authorities who also asked the Russians to extradite the journalist. Six days after his arrest, however, Russian authorities, reportedly acting on President Putinís personal orders, released Atovullo. In April, Atovullo had been charged in Tajikistan with insulting the president, "supporting the violent removal of the constitutional order, and inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred". The charges are based on articles written by Atovullo which detailed alleged corruption in the Tajikistan government.
The articles appeared in Charogi Ruz an opposition newspaper published by Atovullo. Charogi Ruz was closed down by Tajik authorities in 1992, which forced Atovullo to move the production of the newspaper to Moscow. After some time, Atovullo moved from Moscow to Hamburg fearing for his and his familyís safety. If Atovullo had been extradited he would have faced a trial under Tajikistanís notoriously harsh criminal defamation laws.
After his release, the journalist announced he would move the production of his paper from Moscow to a western European country. The case with Atovullo reveals the attitude of the government against the independent and critical media and provides an example of the kind of perils that face those few journalists that remain defiant. There are exceptions, however, as developments in the Sogd region show.
Located in northern Tajikistan, the Sogd oblast enjoys more independent TV stations and newspapers than the rest of the country put together. Talking to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in March, Kasym Kasymov, chairman of the Sogd oblast, said, "Positive changes are particularly evident in the information, sector where a large number of private companies have grown up alongside state TV stations. Independent printed publications are also making an appearance."
Many media outlets receive funding from a number of organisations such as USAID, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Internews. According to commentators, the situation in the Sogd oblast is the result of a high degree of political and economic stability resulting from the region not being dragged into the countryís civil war which ended in 1997.
In October, Tajik authorities said they had solved the 1996 murder of a Russian journalist. Officers of the Tajik Interior Ministryís criminal investigation department announced they had detained the individuals responsible for the murder of Viktor Nikulin, a Russian correspondent with ORT. Nikulin was killed in 1996 when he was shot twice in the head in Dushanbe. He often worked on stories connected to terrorism and the drug trade. Officials said the two men arrested were members of a criminal group which had carried out a number of attacks against Russians in Tajikistan.
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