U.S. Lawmakers Urge Tajik Leader To End Harassment Of RFE/RL



Two prominent U.S. congressmen have addressed a bipartisan letter to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon about "continued threats" and other mistreatment of RFE/RL journalists.

The lawmakers urge the Tajik authorities to let RFE/RL's operations "continue unabated."

The April 16 letter, signed by Representative Adam Schiff (Democrat-California) and Representative Steve Chabot (Republican-Ohio), is a follow-up to a previous appeal made in October.

Schiff and Chabot said they'd recently learned of further threats to reporters from RFE/RL's Tajik Service, known as Radio Ozodi.

They cited unduly short extensions of press credentials for some RFE/RL correspondents and the outright refusal by the authorities to renew the press accreditation of others.

The U.S. lawmakers also expressed concern that authorities in Tajikistan have placed other RFE/RL employees "under review."

"At this time of uncertainty and crisis as we confront a global pandemic, trustworthy, reliable, and independent sources of news are at an even greater premium," Schiff and Chabot wrote.

Just 10 out of 18 RFE/RL journalists who applied for accreditation in February have been granted credentials, the congressmen said.

The U.S. lawmakers also said they were "alarmed to hear" that Tajik authorities had placed the credentials of both the acting bureau chief and bureau administrator "under review."

They said a denial of their applications "would essentially close Radio Ozodi's operations in Tajikistan."

"It is our hope that your government will take swift action to reconsider these decisions and allow Radio Ozodi to continue its important work," the letter said.

It was unclear on April 17 whether Rahmon had seen the letter.

Writing on Twitter earlier in the week, James Risch, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was disappointed that the Tajik authorities had not yet corrected the issue:

RFE/RL is funded by the U.S. Congress and overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's representative on media freedom, Harlem Desir, had urged Tajik authorities in 2019 to investigate allegations of authorities intimidating the family of RFE/RL journalist Humayra Bakhtiyar to pressure her to return to the former Soviet republic.

The Committee to Protect Journalists in late October called on Rahmon to take urgent action to ensure that Tajik journalists, including RFE/RL correspondents like Bakhtiyar, can work unhindered.

The group also implored the Tajik administration to ensure citizens had access to independent sources of information ahead of parliamentary elections in March that were dominated by Rahmon's allies and found to be woefully undemocratic by Western observers.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Tajikistan 161st among 180 countries in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

The media rights group warned that Rahmon "increasingly indulges his authoritarian tendencies, thereby threatening the fragile national consensus" that helped end Tajikistan's civil war in 1997.

"We appreciate your concerns regarding Radio Ozodi’s coverage. A free press often results in coverage that policymakers dislike," Schiff and Chabot wrote in their letter. "This, however, is the nature of independent journalism."

They noted that Tajikistan is a signatory of the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been in force since 1976.

They also noted that the Tajik Constitution has language that "defends media freedoms." They expressed hope that Rahmon "will agree that upholding freedom of the press remains imperative."