Attack on Tajik Journalist Reporting on Covid-19

The media is literally under attack in Tajikistan. There was a total of over 80 attacks of all kinds, physical and non-physical – including cyber-attacks and attacks via judicial or economic means – on journalists in the country from 2017 to 2019. This week, journalist Abdullo Ghurbati, who works for one of the few remaining independent media outlets in Tajikistan, Asia Plus, became the latest victim.

On May 11, two masked men attacked Ghurbati near the entrance to his house in Dushanbe. “They only said ‘Who do you think you are?’” Ghurbati told Human Rights Watch. “One of them hit me in the head from behind. I hit the ground and both of them continued beating me.”

When Ghurbati started screaming, the attackers escaped. Ghurbati took a cab to a hospital where Asia Plus colleagues met him. Two hospitals would not admit Ghurbati because they were only treating Covid-19 patients. He eventually received treatment at another hospital for multiple injuries to his skull and ear.

Ghurbati had recently been reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic in Tajikistan, including government efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. Even after admitting there were Covid-19 cases in the country on April 30, Tajikistan has not put in place policies seen in other countries to protect public health and slow the virus’ spread, such as imposing a quarantine or encouraging social distancing.

The police have launched an investigation, including an examination of footage from CCTV cameras near Ghurbati’s home. Ghurbati said the footage shows that the attackers waited specifically for him.

Ghurbati has recently received multiple threats linked to his work as a journalist. After his reporting on Covid-19, government-linked online trolls called him a traitor. He received messages on social media warning him not to write critical posts: “behave right,” one said. He also received a call from a stranger who threatened to “find and deal with him.”

“The police promised to find the attackers and punish [them] by law,” Ghurbati told Human Rights Watch. Tajik law enforcement authorities should do so and ensure that journalists are able to carry out their work freely, whether reporting on Covid-19 or any other issue in the country.