|Although Tajikistan's four-year civil war came to an end in June 1997,
the peace process has been constantly threatened by disputes between the
government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), the two main parties to
the peace agreement. Violence against peacekeepers has also been a serious
deterrent to peace efforts.
In July, four members of a U.N. observer mission were ambushed and killed,
and on September 22, Otakhon Latifi, a leading opposition figure and
former Pravda correspondent, was shot dead. Numerous rebel-led
insurgencies in various parts of the country also dealt a blow to the peace
In this ongoing climate of violence and political factionalism, it has been
difficult for an independent press -- decimated during the civil war, when
at least 29 journalists were murdered -- to take root and thrive. And it
is still dangerous for those reporters who try to cover political developments
and conflicts. Sedzhar Khamidov, a Russian Television correspondent, was
wounded in the head in November as he filmed government troops storming
the regional airport at Chkalovsk, which had been seized by rebels.
Journalists have been targeted for abuse ranging from physical attacks to
harassment. According to the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation, on
October 1, two masked individuals burst into the apartment of Maksujon Guseinov,
a correspondent of the independent newspaper Charkhi Gardun,
severely beat his wife, and searched the apartment. Although Guseinov was
not at home at the time of the assault, the assailants made clear the purpose
of their visit by telling his wife that he should "stop writing."
Officials, opposition parties, and local warlords continued to show little
tolerance for journalists who scrutinize the peace process and other domestic
political issues. In July, Tajikistan's Minister of Foreign Affairs revoked
the accreditation of Yelena Masyuk, a correspondent for the Russian television
station NTV and a 1997 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award.
The Tajik Interior Ministry issued a statement claiming that Masyuk's reports
on Tajik politics "aim to discredit the Tajik government ... and amount to
interference in the sovereign affairs of a home state." The Foreign Ministry
further threatened to suspend NTV's work in Tajikistan if the company made
an issue out of Masyuk's expulsion.
The government actively sought to control the press in other ways. During
the first half of the year, newspapers affiliated with opposition parties
were harassed and pressured to close, and state-run printing presses, which
monopolize the industry, stopped printing them. Under terms of the peace
agreement, however, opposition political parties and their media outlets
will be permitted to re-register following the demobilization of opposition
military units, a process which is expected to come to a close in early 1999.
More subtle forms of harassment of the press were also common. Economic pressure
on independent or opposition media, such as harassment by the tax police,
compounded their chronic financial difficulties. The pressures are also
political. In May, the Majlisi Oli (parliament) adopted a law "on the defense
of the honor and dignity of the president" which, among other things, set
out excessive fines and prison sentences for journalists or media outlets
deemed to insult or slander the president. Fortunately, President Imomali
Rakhmonov vetoed the legislation in response to international pressure.
There are approximately 10 independent newspapers, although most of them
avoid politically sensitive topics, and journalists who do write about politics
generally know where to draw the line of acceptability. This form of
self-censorship seems to have taken the place of an official censorship policy.
The government did, however, routinely attempt to influence the content of
material on the more than a dozen independent television stations, using
the regulatory mechanisms in its arsenal to pressure them to toe the official
line. The State Committee of TV and Radio, which issues licenses, often delays
or denies licenses for independent broadcasters.