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Tajikistan24 August 2004

Independent press subjected to printing obstructions, threats and assault

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern at a "serious worsening" in press freedom in Tajikistan as independent and opposition newspapers were prevented from printing, coming after a physical attack on one journalist and repeated threats against another.

The widest range of tactics was being used to silence the few independent voices as elections approach, said the international press freedom organisation.

Tax police closed and sealed private printers Jiyonkhon on 18 August preventing the publication of three newspapers. On 16 August the state printers Sanadvora refused to print opposition newspaper Odamu Olam. This came in the wake of a physical attack against Rajabi Mirzo, editor of Ruzi Nav, and repeated threats against independent journalist Mavluda Sultonzoda.

Reporters Without Borders appealed to President Emomali Rakhmonov to "make sure that Rajabi Mirzo’s assailants did not enjoy impunity and that official procedures were not used as false pretexts for gagging the press".

The private Jiyonkhon printworks was closed before it began printing independent weekly Nerui Sukhan. According to the tax authorities, Jiyonkhon was using a larger amount of paper than it was registered for. It will remain closed pending investigation.

Jiyonkhon is the only printer in the country that agrees to print the three opposition weeklies Nerui Sukhan, Ruzi Nav and Najot (newspaper of the opposition Islamic Revival party). The tax authorities’ decision thus deprives the country of three independent papers until further notice.

State printers Sanadvora refused to print opposition weekly Odamu Olam, breaking its contract with the paper. The newspaper has not appeared since then. No other printer will take it over.

This all happened as working conditions for journalists worsened.

Mavluda Sultonzoda, journalist on the opposition weeklies Ruzi Nav and Nerui Sukhan, received phoned threats after writing an article headlined "Who is Rakhmonov?" in which she criticised President Rakhmonov and his government. She revealed that she has been receiving threats since December 2003. For the first time, however threats were also being made against her family.

A few days earlier, on 29 July, Rajabi Mirzo, editor of Ruzi Nav, was attacked in Dushanbe. Eye-witnesses said that an assailant lay in wait for the journalist to return home for several hours at a bus stop on Avenue Profsoyuz, then beat the journalist on the head with a blunt instrument before fleeing. Mirzo said he believed the attack was linked to his articles exposing government corruption. The Dushanbe prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation.

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