The state controls the printing plants in the capital, Dushanbe, as well as the state broadcasting commission, which enables it to censor newspaper articles and refuse licences to independent media. The first independent radio, Asia+, began broadcasting in September, but it had to wait nearly four years for a response from the authorities and was turned down once.
The authorities pressure journalists and independent media in many ways, including seizures, threats or conscripting critical young journalists into the army. The dropping of charges against exiled opposition journalist Dodojon Atovulloyev has not fooled the regime’s opponents or the journalist himself, who fears he will be in danger if he returns to the country.
Press offences are still considered crimes and defamation is punishable by two years in prison and five years if it concerns the president himself. On 18 December, the authorities hosted a conference organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, Freimut Duve, which concluded there was a need for new press laws more in line with international standards.
New information on a journalist killed before 2002
The interior minister announced on 26 July the arrest of a former Islamic opposition fighter in the murder of the BBC’s Persian Service correspondent in Dushanbe, Muhiddin Olimpur, who had been found shot dead in the capital near the university on 12December 1995. The well-known Olimpur, who was also a photographer, filmmaker and man of letters, focused on cultural news, but also covered local political and social matters. His papers were not stolen.
Nine journalists arrested
Nine young journalists from the TV stations SMI and TRK-Asia who were attending a journalist training course in the northern town of Khujand were arrested by military police on 28 October. Six were released as exempt from doing military service but three - Akram Azizov (21), Nasim Rahimov (20) and Yusuf Yunusov (21) - of the TV station SM1, were sent to the town’s army base to be conscripted into the army to work in its communications department.
Four days earlier, SMI had broadcast a documentary made during the training course about army squads that tracked down young people to conscript them, using violence and rejecting medical certificates justifying exemption. The head of SMI, Mahmujan Dadabayev, received phone calls from army officials on 5 November threatening to kill him and shut down the station.
New information about
a journalist in exile
The deputy prosecutor-general, Azizmat Imomov, announced on 21 June that all charges had been dropped against Dodojon Atovulloyev, editor of an opposition newspaper, Charogy Ruz, published in Moscow, who had been accused of libelling the president and "inciting national, racial and religious hatred." He had been arrested on 5 July 2001 at Moscow airport on his way from Hamburg (Germany), where he had obtained political asylum a few months earlier, to a meeting in Tashkent (Uzbekistan).
Several governments and human rights organisations persuaded the Russian government not to extradite him and he was freed a few days later. He obtained political asylum on 20 March 2002 and feared his life would be in danger if he returned to Tajikistan.
Pressure and obstruction
The state broadcasting commission refused on 8 July to grant a radio operating licence to the independent media group Asia+, saying a new station was not needed in Dushanbe, even though it has no independent radio station. The request for a licence was made in August 1998. After the head of Asia+, Umed Babakhanov, approached President Rahmonov on 29 July and after protests by human rights organisations, the commission reversed itself and the group was allowed to open a radio station on 9 September.
In mid-December, an aide of Subkhon Rakhimov, mayor of the southwestern town of Kurgan-Tyube, and three policemen, burst into the offices of the independent TV station Kurgan-Tyube and seized tapes of a report on the town’s economic and social problems. The next day, the mayor threatened to close the station if he was not allowed to censor its programmes.