The founders of an independent newspaper in Tajikistan have decided to suspend operations on the eve of the publication’s 10th anniversary following what appears to have been pressure from the authorities.
The Indem think tank, which owned Nigoh newspaper, said in a statement earlier this week that it was halting its print edition because of a “lack of appropriate conditions."
It is evident that the problems do not appear to have been financial since the newspaper has pledged to keep paying its employees until 2017. Nigoh could also boast having no debts to its printing house or outstanding tax liabilities.
“Unfortunately, we can make no further comment,” Indem said in its statement.
EurasiaNet.org has learned, however, that Nigoh’s fate was sealed by a pattern of reporting disliked by the authorities and, most recently, an unfortunately typographical error.
The latest issue featured a piece on the front page about the banned Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT). Authorities have given clear signals to the media to refrain from even alluding to the IRPT, whose leadership was jailed last year amid accusations of involvement in a purported coup plot. Nigoh argued in its article that the closure of the party had simply precipitated an exodus of members from Tajikistan and promoted IRPT’s status to an international party.
Nigoh had previously published critical pieces about the trial against the lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, who was sentenced to 23 years in jail on fraud charges in what was transparently a reprisal for him agreeing to represent the IRPT.
A perversely trifling solecism in the last issue of Nigoh may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, however.
An article of the front page mistakenly printed the word “president” as “presidlent.” Under new rules approved this week, offending President Emomali Rahmon could be punished by jail terms of up to five years, so there is understandable anxiety about falling foul of such prohibitions. What constitutes offense is subject to the highly arbitrary interpretation of the courts, so an intensification of self-censorship is to be expected.
The same issue of Nigoh compounded its false steps by running a photo story about a recent visit by Rahmon to the city of Kulob. One image featured the president holding an apple and a caption reading “An apple as a symbol of achievement in Tajikistan.” Not incendiary perhaps, but indicative of now-unacceptable irreverence.
The end of Nigoh will spell yet another turn for the worse for Tajikistan’s media scene, which has already been hollowed out by government repression and lack of finances. The situation has driven large numbers of reporters out of their profession and, ultimately, out of the country.