October 25, 2019

Bipartisan Group of Senators Sends Letter to President of Tajikistan Regarding Harassment of Tajik Journalists

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), on Friday sent a letter to President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan concerning reports that journalists affiliated with Radio Ozodi, the Tajik Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), are being harassed, threatened, and in some cases, denied accreditation to work in Tajikistan.

“In order to continue its important work, Radio Ozodi must, of course, be able to hire staff in its bureau in Dushanbe, as well as in Tajikistan’s other regions, and employees must be able to freely do their jobs without fear for their safety,” the senators wrote.

“As members of the U.S. Congress, which funds RFE/RL with the aim to promote a free and independent press, we are concerned about this ongoing harassment of Radio Ozodi and its staff. If this continues, we worry that there will be repercussions for the strengthening of the U.S.-Tajik relationship. We urge you to ensure that Ozodi is allowed to operate and that its staff are accredited expeditiously,” continued the senators.

Currently, there are eight journalists and support staff at Radio Ozodi that the Foreign Ministry of Tajikistan has declined to issue credentials to. Among these are video journalist Barotali Nazarov (pen name: Barot Yusufi), who Tajik authorities banned in June, two recently hired journalists, and five renewals, one of whom has been waiting since 2017. The Ministry has also denied credentials to Radio Ozodi’s bureau chief in Dushanbe.

Full text of the letter can be found below or on the SFRC website here.

His Excellency Emomali Rahmon

President of the Republic of Tajikistan

Palace of the Nation

Dushanbe

Republic of Tajikistan

Dear Mr. President:

Over the past few years, the United States and the Republic of Tajikistan have looked to deepen our relationship both bilaterally and through the C5+1 Forum. As this process continues, we must ensure to maintain an honest dialogue about issues that arise. We write today to express concern about reports that journalists affiliated with Radio Ozodi, the Tajik Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), are being harassed, threatened, and in some cases, denied accreditation to work in your country.

The mission of Radio Ozodi is to provide accurate and independent news and information to local audiences. Its reporters diligently produced informed, unbiased reporting about politics, economics, social issues, and human rights in widely consumed and trusted stories. In the days of social media, its pages are among the country’s most popular. Tajikistan’s own national media monitors ranked it the number one news website in Tajikistan this year, and officials in your own government say they read or listen to Ozodi’s coverage of politics and developments in Tajik society.

In order to continue its important work, Radio Ozodi must, of course, be able to hire staff in its bureau in Dushanbe, as well as in Tajikistan’s other regions, and employees must be able to freely do their jobs without fear for their safety. However, the Foreign Ministry currently has declined to issue credentials to a total of eight journalists and support staff, effectively preventing them from this important work. Among these are video journalist Barotali Nazarov (pen name: Barot Yusufi), who Tajik authorities banned in June, two recently hired journalists, and five renewals, one of whom has been waiting since 2017. The Ministry has even denied credentials to Radio Ozodi’s bureau chief in Dushanbe.

We are concerned that accreditation is being used to restrict and attempt to influence Radio Ozodi’s independent journalism. Indeed, Tajik authorities temporarily striped six journalists of their credentials in 2016 after the Service published a critical article about a member of your family. That year, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media issued a statement criticizing the use of accreditation by some member states “as a work permit,” and declared that, “[a]ccreditation should not serve as a tool to control content.”

As members of the U.S. Congress, which funds RFE/RL with the aim to promote a free and independent press, we are concerned about this ongoing harassment of Radio Ozodi and its staff. If this continues, we worry that there will be repercussions for the strengthening of the U.S.-Tajik relationship. We urge you to ensure that Ozodi is allowed to operate and its staff are accredited expeditiously.

As Tajikistan looks to increase and enhance its international relationships, including with the U.S. and Europe, it is critical that Tajikistan allows Radio Ozodi and other media outlets to operate freely.

Sincerely,

Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.)

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