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Tajikistan29 May 2003

News website censored

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Tajik authorities to stop blocking access to a news website, tajikistantimes.ru, which is run by opposition journalist Dododjon Atovulloev from outside the country. Internet users inside Tajikistan have been unable to access the site since 24 April. Launched on 1 March, the site has reports that are very critical of the government.

"In view of the prior harassment of Atovulloev for several years because of his publications, and the obstacles to the emergence of independent news media put in place by the authorities, we have every reason to believe that tajikistantimes.ru is being deliberately blocked, that is to say, censored, in order to deny Tajik Internet users free access to critical reporting," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to President Imamali Rahmanov.

"We call on you to do everything possible to ensure that this website is again accessible and that the independent media can develop without obstruction," Ménard’s letter added.

Atovulloev said the authorities were blocking his site because "they view any form of dissidence as a crime." The site is the only one "that dares to criticise the president, government and parliament and say the things the local press does not report," he said. Many articles quote the views of opposition party leaders and experts on a constitutional reform referendum scheduled for 22 June, which many think is aimed at extending President Rahmanov’s term in office. The BBC and the German radio station Deutsche Welle said the security ministry was reportedly blocking the site.

Atovulloev was arrested in Russia at the behest of the Tajik authorities in mid-2001, when he had been living in Europe for several months and was the editor of Charogi Ruz, a Tajik opposition newspaper published abroad. He had been flying from Hamburg to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on 5 July 2001 to attend a meeting there and was detained during a stopover at Moscow’s Sheremetievo airport on the basis of a Tajik extradition request filed the previous April accusing him of "libelling the president" and "incitement to national, racial and religious hate."

Several senior Tajik officials including the mayor of Dushanbe were believed to be behind the extradition request. Atovulloev had received threats prior to his arrest in Moscow and several members of his family still living in Tajikistan were detained for two weeks. The Russian authorities released him after several days, in response to appeals by several governments and international human rights organisations.




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