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Tajikistan1 February 2005

Growing threats to independent press in approach to legislative elections

Tajikistan’s journalists and independent media are increasingly being harassed in the approach to the 27 February 2005 legislative elections, Reporters Without Borders warned today, pointing to a politician’s aggressive behaviour towards the BBC’s Farsi-language correspondent, Iskandar Firuz, and the closure of independent weekly Nerui Sukhan and seizure of its latest issue.

Firuz was accosted on 29 January by the deputy president of the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) at a polling station in the Shokhmanssur district of the capital, Dushanbe, where he had gone to cover a meeting between candidates and voters. After destroying her cassette tape, he told him : "Go and complain to whomever you like, I’m not afraid of anyone."

In a letter to President Imamali Rakhmonov, Reporters Without Borders said it was "very worried by this attack on a journalist who was just doing her job in the run-up to the legislative elections."

A seal was put on the offices of Nerui Sukhan and all 3,000 copies of its latest issue were seized on 26 January as part of an operation ordered by the tax office targeting the privately-owned printing works Kaikhon, which allegedly failed to pay its taxes and printed newspapers without a permit.

"The closure of one of the last independent newspapers by this roundabout route, using the tax office, shows that the authorities are bent on gagging all dissident voices," Reporters Without Borders added it its letter to the president.

Some 3,000 copies of Nerui Sukhan (which means "Force of Words") had been published each week since January 2003 by the Fund for the Memory and Defence of the Rights of Journalists.

Nuriddin Karshiboyev, the head of the Association of Independent Media, said the reasons given by the authorities for closing Nerui Sukhan were clearly spurious: "Why would you seal the newspaper’s office if there is just a tax problem involving Kaikhon, the company that prints it."

Another printing works was already closed by the tax department on 18 August, forcing the opposition newspaper Ruzi Nav to get printed in Kyrgyzstan until one of its issues was finally seized by the authorities at Dushanbe airport on 4 November. The newspaper disbanded thereafter.

Just a handful of independent newspapers are left - Najot (the newspaper of the Islamist Renaissance opposition party), Biznis I Politika, Asia Plus and the online newspaper

The attack on Firuz was preceded by attacks and threats against other journalists in 2004 which indicate a sharp decline in the ability of the press to work freely. Mavluda Sultonzoda of Ruzi Nav and Nerui Sukhan received threatening letters on 3 August after writing an article critical of the president and government that was headlined: "Who is Rakhmonov? Former Ruzi Nav editor Rajabi Mirzo was the victim of a physical attack on 29 July in Dushanbe that was linked to his articles exposing government corruption.

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