Washington, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have added their voices to an international campaign urging the government of Tajikistan to comply with local law and international conventions and accredit as many as 18 journalists and staff with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Tajik Service who risk losing their right to work on November 1.
U.S. Senators James Risch (R-ID), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Robert Casey (D-PA), in a letter addressed to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon dated October 25, referred to the fact that Radio Ozodi journalists have been denied accreditation and expressed concern that this could lead to “repercussions for the strengthening of the U.S.-Tajik relationship.” The Senators state that “it is critical that Tajikistan allows Radio Ozodi and other media outlets to operate freely.”
In a letter dated October 9, U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Steve Chabot (R-OH), co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Freedom of the Press, expressed concern “that accreditation is being used to restrict and attempt to influence Radio Ozodi’s independent journalism,” and called for the Service’s staff to be “accredited expeditiously.”
Radio Ozodi is the Tajik-language name for the Service.
Tajikistan’s own leading media rights groups issued a statement on behalf of Radio Ozodi this week, urging authorities to refrain from using accreditation to restrict freedom of speech. The letter, signed jointly by the National Media Council and the National Association of Independent Media, cites the country’s law on media accreditation, which states that “Foreign correspondents have the right to the free transfer” of information, “excluding any censorship.”
OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir tweeted on October 23 that “accreditation should not be used as a work permit,” and called on Tajik authorities to resolve the accreditation of Ozodi journalists urgently.
Currently, nine Radio Ozodi journalists and support staff are barred from working because they have not been credentialed by the Foreign Ministry, as required by Tajik law. Three journalists are new hires and six are awaiting required, annual renewals, including one who has been awaiting his extension since 2017. Another, videojournalist Barotali Nazarov (pen name: Barot Yusufi) was stripped of his accreditation in June. November 1 is the deadline for the Ministry to renew the credentials of an additional nine.
Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin addressed the issue of accreditation in August, declaring at a press conference, “we will never close Radio Ozodi here, but we will probably not register those employees of Radio Ozodi who let in their articles even the smallest damage of the current state policy.”
Meeting with the minister in Dushanbe later that month, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly called on him and his colleagues in the government “to engage us and our bureau more constructively,” and urged him to accredit Ozodi’s journalists “so they can do their jobs.”
The Tajik government has used accreditation previously to retaliate against journalism it dislikes. It revoked, and after a public outcry, reinstated, the accreditation of six Ozodi journalists in 2016 after the Tajik Service published a critical article about President Rahmon’s daughter. The Service’s reporting on the political opposition and corruption has also angered the government, which has responded by blocking the Service’s website and Facebook pages.
RFE/RL’s Tajik Service is one of the country’s few remaining sources of independent news, attracting outsized audiences with compelling reporting on issues not otherwise covered by state-run media. It has Tajikistan’s most popular YouTube channel (828,000 subscribers; 195 million video views in FY2019) and Facebook page (184,000 followers; 14 million video views in FY2019).
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through USAGM.
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Deputy Director of Media and Public Affairs, Washington, DC