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World Press Freedom Review
By Husam S. Madhoun
Since the signing of a Presidential decree in March 2005, the media in Tajikistan have had greater access to government information. The decree requires government Ministers, as well as the heads of local state bodies, to hold press conferences on a quarterly basis and to provide information at the behest of media employees. However, till today all state officials have not adhered to this decree. Some of them, particularly mid-ranking officials, still try to prevent journalists from accessing information of public interest.
Defamation still remains a criminal offence in Tajikistan. Saida Kurbonova, editor-in-ehief of the Ovoza newspaper, and two of the newspaperís journalists, Mukhaiyo Nozimova and Farangis Nabiyeva, are facing charges under Article 135 ("slander contained in public speeches"), Article 136 ("insult contained in public speeches") and Article 144 ("illegal collection and distribution of private information") of the Criminal Code. The charges stem from a 21 June article that appeared in Ovoza, critical of a concert given in Afghanistan by the Tajik singer Raikhona Rakhimova. In her complaint, Rakhimova claimed that the article insulted her honour and dignity. "We are being persecuted for expressing a critical opinion, and this is a violation of article 30 of the Constitution," said Nozimova.
The State maintains a firm grip on national television and politically relevant print media. In 2006, there were over 300 newspapers registered in Tajikistan, although only about half remain active. The largest publications are Asia Plus, Tojikiston, and Vecherny Dushanbe. Some political parties have their own newspaper, including the Islamic Renaissance Party (Najot), the ruling Peopleís Democratic Party (Minbar-i Khalq) and the Communist Party (Nido-i Ranjbar and Golos Tajikistana).
Tajikistanís criminal code strictly forbids public criticism of the President and sets a penalty of up to five years in prison. In August, Tajik journalists urged President Emomali Rakhmonov to turn down a draft amendment to the Criminal Code that allows prosecution for abusive and untruthful Internet postings. An appeal was launched by several organisations, including the National Independent Media Association, National Journalistsí Union and the Tajik Media Alliance. "The adoption of the proposed amendments by the Majilis Milli (the upper house of parliament) has entered Tajikistan to a list of countries that violate the principles of press freedom by restricting it on the Internet," the appeal read.
The senate, however, approved the bill amending the Tajik Criminal Code. The bill stipulates that statements made in Internet forums would have the status of publications, while the authors, if found guilty of slander or insults, could be sentenced up to two years in prison. Thus, the amendments to Articles 135 and 136 of Tajikistanís penal code would criminalise defamatory statements published on websites, as well as those made in print and broadcast media. Penalties range from a fine of up to 1,000 times the minimum monthly wage to two years in prison.
Abdughafor Abdujabborov, a cultural ministry spokesman, said the new amendments would make people more accountable for deliberately spreading libellous information. "There do need to be instruments to make people think about the consequences of their actions before they do anything," the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting quoted Abdujabborov as saying.
Mukhtor Bokizoda, director of the Tajik press freedom group Foundation for the Commemoration and Protection of Journalists, told CPJ that he is worried about the amendments, saying that Tajik officials tend to interpret any criticism of themselves as libel and sue the critics. Tajikistanís legislation affecting the media presents contradictions and loopholes, and leaves many opportunities for abuse.
Despite the limited gains, Tajikistanís press still remains far from free. An increasing number of civil defamation suits are being filed against journalists, and threats against journalists remain. Regulators and courts were active in stifling independent domestic broadcasters; government officials also blocked local access to Internet publications, among the few remaining sources for independent news.
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