Tajikistan Reprisal Against RFE/RL Draws US Reaction
Tajikistan’s hasty decision to revoke accreditation for six journalists working for RFE/RL’s local affiliate, Radio Ozodi, has sparked broad dismay, including from the US government.
The cancellation of the reporters’ accreditation followed publication on Radio Ozodi’s website of a story about one of President Emomali Rahmon’s daughters, Rukhshona Rahmonova, being nominated to a plum post in the Foreign Ministry.
In customary fashion, the Foreign Ministry called Radio Ozodi warning them to pull the article, but the broadcaster refused, precipitating the reprisal.
RFE/RL President Thomas Kent described the Tajik government’s action as a “blatant attack on our ability to do our jobs as journalists.”
“This is an abuse of an administrative procedure for political purposes that we expect to be reversed without delay,” Kent said in a statement on the RFE/RL website
RFE/RL has said this is not the only recent instance of Tajik authorities trying to force content off its website. Earlier in November, the authorities demanded the broadcaster pull a news item about a statement posted on the US Embassy website warning of a possible imminent terrorist attack on the border with Afghanistan.
This pressure forms part of a systematic campaign of intimidation against Radio Ozodi.
“The Service’s website has been blocked since September, 2015, requiring users to employ alternative means to access it. Radio Ozodi journalists have been portrayed as being ‘unpatriotic’ and damaging the country’s image in official media, interrogated by security service agents, and proffered ‘friendly advice’ by authorities to avoid problems,” RFE/RL said.
This latest impasse has prompted even the normally imperturbable US Embassy to issue a statement of concern on November 29.
“The United States calls on the authorities of Tajikistan to ensure that journalists have the right to freedom of expression and to hold opinions without interference in accordance with Tajikistan’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the statement said.
But the intensified crackdown on independent media has, in fact, been taking place for well over the past year and forced dozens of journalists, if not more, to leave their jobs or flee the country altogether.
The most recent victims of the crackdown were independent newspaper Nigoh and the TojNews news agency, which were both run by Dushanbe-based think tank Indem. The think tank said it believed “the conditions in Tajikistan no longer exist for independent media and free journalism.”
The rule of thumb latterly has been that non-government media outlets are only permitted to report on events and developments either covered by Khovar state news agency or announced officially. Even that is now not enough apparently, given that Rahmonova’s appointment had been previously publicized on the Foreign Ministry website.
The authorities are evidently becoming jittery about what they perceive to be the excess scrutiny of the rampant nepotism in Tajikistan.
Rahmonova is the third of the president’s seven daughters. Prior to taking up her new job in the Foreign Ministry, she worked in the Tajik Embassy in London.
Rahmon also has two sons, one of whom, Rustam Emomali, is often touted as a possible successor. Emomali currently heads the anticorruption agency — a job that came on the heels of his appointment to the rank of general at the tender age of 25, when he was also named head of the customs service.
Another daughter, Ozoda Rahmon, served as deputy foreign minister from 2009 and then first deputy foreign minister from May 2014, before being appointed head of the presidential executive apparatus this past January.
Another Rahmon daughter, Zarrina, is married to the son of the notorious Beg Zukhurov, head of the communications service. Zukhurov is best known for his predilection for blocking websites and phone services, and for accumulating a vast array of business interests while in post.
Meanwhile, Ozoda Rahmon’s husband, Jamoliddin Nuraliyev, is the first deputy chairman of the central bank and is linked to numerous lucrative business enterprises in the country.