Tajikistan’s justice system has set a disconcerting precedent by jailing an independent reporter for an offense purportedly committed when he was around six years old.
Human Rights Watch in a statement on September 1 decried the two-year sentence handed down to Amindzhon Gulmurodzoda, who was convicted on charges of forgery on August 18.
A court in Dushanbe found Gulmurodzoda, 33, who was formerly a reporter from the Tajik language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, guilty of obtaining falsified birth certificate in 1989. Prosecutors also accused Gulmurodzoda of obtaining a fake passport in 1998.
“The verdict is sending a chill throughout Tajikistan’s journalistic community as yet another example of the crackdown on free speech and independent voices,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.
The jailing fits into a broader pattern of suppression of dissenting or independent voices on Tajikistan’s political and media scenes.
On August 28, the Justice Ministry sent a letter to the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan informing it that it was being abolished over alleged technical violations of legislation on political parties.
Less than two weeks earlier, IRPT’s printing house was closed over claimed health code violations, Interfax news agency reported. The government sanitary standards body said workers had not undergone regular medical checks and were not equipped with uniforms or provided with medical nutrition, as required by law.
On the media front, independent outlets are being constrained by a decree barring all but state-run Khovar news agency from reporting government notices.
The distinction is relatively moot, however, since it is highly rare for any officials to venture into revealing even inoffensive information on the record. But the anonymous sourcing that journalists have had to rely upon now also looks to be at risk.
Human Rights Watch said other outlets known for reporting critical views “have been subjected to increasing pressure over the past year, with security service officers frequently visiting and interrogating their staff and demanding they be notified about stories in advance of publication.”
And where that doesn’t work, authorities have resorted to preventing access to online resources. Facebook is currently blocked by most Internet service providers, as is YouTube.
The online bans are seemingly imposed verbally and unsystematically. EurasiaNet.org too is inaccessible in some locations.
Unfavorable coverage of the president is usually enough to earn the wrong kind of attention.
“In 2014, the Tajik authorities issued a court decision requiring independent news outlet Asia Plus to retract an article that was critical of praise for President Emomali Rahmon; the outlet was fined US$6,100 (30,000 somoni),” the HRW statement said.