Newswatch | Newswatch

You are here

Tajik govt snubs court ruling on arrested journalist

Tajik authorities have ignored a second Supreme Court order to release jailed independent journalist Jumaboy Tolibov, according to a local Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) legal source who is monitoring the case.


LOOK WHO'S TALKING: President Emomali Rakhmonov's government severely restricts freedom of expression. The sole publishing house for publishing newspapers is owned by the state and denies access to government critics. The government monitors and "counsels" all news media, enforces pre-publication censorship, and imposes burdensome licensing procedures. (United Nations)

The court ruled on October 11 and again on November 28 that Tolibov should be freed from a detention centre in the town of Istarafshan in the northern region of Sogd. But the Prosecutor General's Office in the capital Dushanbe effectively blocked his release, the source said. Tolibov was jailed in April this year after criticising a local prosecutor in three newspaper articles in 2004.

"The government's flagrant disregard for the country's highest judicial authority calls into question Tajikistan's commitment to the rule of law," said Ann Cooper, CPJ Executive Director. "Jumaboy Tolibov must be freed immediately."

Under the Tajik Code of Criminal Procedure the Prosecutor General's Office can suspend the implementation of a Supreme Court decision by filing an appeal, which it did after the October ruling. On November 28, the nine-member bench of the Supreme Court rejected that appeal and ordered Tolibov's release, the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT), a press freedom group, reported.

But officers at the Istarafshan detention unit have told Tolibov's relatives that until they receive an official copy of the court's decision in the regular mail the journalist will remain behind bars. On December 7, a legal advisor to Tolibov's family told CPJ he sent a copy of the court decision to the detention centre but authorities said they would wait for the post office to deliver the decision.

"To assert that the will of the Supreme Court is contingent upon the notoriously unreliable Tajik mail system would be laughable if the liberty of an innocent journalist were not at stake," added Cooper.

Tolibov was arrested on April 24 in Dushanbe at the direction of Ayni district prosecutor Sabit Azamov. Tolibov, who is also chairman of the legal department in Ayni's local government, wrote commentaries in the ruling party newspaper Minbar i Halq and the parliamentary newspaper Sadoi Mardum that were highly critical of the prosecutor's office.

According to the international Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), independent media in tajikistan is being steadily squeezed out of existence. In the past year, four major opposition newspapers have closed down and authorities have refused to issue new licences for broadcasters, prompting the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) to express alarm at the situation.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, has voiced concern that four newspapers – Ruzi Nav, Nerui Sukhan, Odamu Olan and Adolat – are no longer being published. Two printing houses that were responsible for printing the newspapers – Jiyonkhon and Kayho – have also closed shop.

In August 2004, authorities closed Jiyonkhon for alleged tax violations. Prior to that, Jiyonkhon had been the only printing house willing to print Ruzi Nav, Nerui Sukhan, Odamu Olan and other independent newspapers. A printing press in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan offered to carry Ruzi Nav, and it issued one print run in November 2004. However, the papers were confiscated by Tajik transportation tax officials upon arrival in Dushanbe.


RISING INSECURITY: Mazhab shah Mohabatshaev, print journalist and anchorperson for Internews' weekly local Exchange Programme Nabzeh-Zendeghi (The Pulse of Life) receiving an award from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE). The OSCE has expressed alarm at teh prevailing media situation in Tajikistan. (Internews Tajikistan/Suhrob Aliev)

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Tajik authorities have shut down Nerui Sukhan four times since it was founded in 2003, using politicised tax and regulatory inspections. The weekly has reported on government corruption and provided audiences with a valuable alternative to the state media.

On August 25 this year, Nerui Sukhan's editor, Mukhtor Bokizoda, was sentenced to two years of corrective labour and fined 1,500 Tajik somoni (US$500) on theft charges. CPJ says the charges were politically motivated and may be part of an attempt to eliminate the paper from the market ahead of 2006 presidential elections. Bokizoda also owned the Kayho printing house and headed the Foundation for the Memory and Protection of Journalists, a press freedom group.

Miklos Haraszti says new broadcasting licences have not been issued by the government despite repeated requests by his office in the past year. "I have to ask you to urgently reverse the situation," said Haraszti in a letter to Tajikistan Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov.

According to an October 2005 background paper on Tajikistan by Human Rights Watch (HRW), President Emomali Rakhmonov's government severely restricts freedom of expression. The sole publishing house for publishing newspapers is owned by the state and denies access to government critics. The government monitors and "counsels" all news media, enforces pre-publication censorship, and imposes burdensome licensing procedures. Electronic media is either state-owned or is dominated by the state through the measures outlined above.

The authorities threaten or harass journalists and editors who publish views directly critical of President Rakhmonov or of certain government policies. A dramatic example was the July 2001 arrest in Moscow of Dodojon Atovullo, exiled editor-in-chief of the independent opposition newspaper Charogi Ruz (Light of Day). Atovullo has in recent years published articles accusing Tajik authorities of corruption and involvement in narcotics trafficking activities. Threatened with extradition back to Tajikistan to face charges of sedition and publicly slandering the president, he was released after six days after pressure from other governments and international organisations.

Several independent television stations operate in the country, but critical or controversial content carries the risk of arbitrary closure. Dushanbe remains without independent radio or television stations, as authorities there have denied them operating licenses for the past three years.

Date posted: December 12, 2005 Date modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 7