Four RFE/RL Journalists Attacked After Deadly Anti-Government March In Tajikistan

By RFE/RL's Tajik Service

Four RFE/RL journalists -- two from its Tajik Service and two from Current Time -- were attacked on May 17 by unknown assailants after they interviewed an activist accused of organizing a protest march in Tajikistan's restive Gorno-Badakhshan region that turned deadly.

The vehicle of the journalists from RFE/RL's Tajik Service (known as Radio Ozodi) was blocked by another car in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, and several men in civilian clothes came out of the car, forced journalists Mullorajab Yusufi and Barot Yusufi out of their vehicle, and attacked them.

The men punched Mullorajab Yusufi several times in the body and head and confiscated the journalists' equipment and personal phones.

The attackers refused to identify themselves or explain their behavior. Before leaving the scene, they told the journalists their equipment would be returned.

About 30 minutes later, Anushervon Orifov and Nasim Isamov of Current Time, the Russian-language channel run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, were attacked the same way, apparently by the same assailants.

The attacks took place after the journalists conducted separate interviews with well-known civil rights activist Ulfatkhonum Mamatshoeva, whom Tajik authorities accused of organizing the May 16 deadly protests in the volatile Badakhshan region. Mamatshoeva denies the accusation.

RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly condemned the attacks in a statement.

"We strongly condemn the two separate attacks on our Radio Ozodi and Current Time journalists in Dushanbe earlier today. We have called on the Tajik authorities repeatedly to stop the government’s pressure campaign against free media," Fly said.

Fly said he has written to Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhruddin to complain about accreditations that have been withheld and threats against RFE/RL journalists.

"It is time for the Tajik government to stop trying to undermine independent reporting that benefits the Tajik people," Fly said.

Earlier in the day, Tajikistan's Interior Ministry said one protester was killed and three law enforcement officers were wounded the previous day as security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters calling for the resignation of political leaders in the region.

A large group of youths began a march in Khorugh, the region's capital, after authorities in Badakhshan refused to consider the resignation of the head of the region, Alisher Mirzonabot, the mayor of the city, and other officials.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that one of the protest leaders, whom it identified as Zamir Nazrishoev, born in 1993, was "wounded and died in hospital" as security forces repulsed "an armed attack" when protesters headed toward regional administration buildings.

RFE/RL cited several sources claiming that Nazrishoev died under different circumstances. No details were immediately available.

Video footage sent to RFE/RL shows law enforcement officers using rubber bullets and tear gas on demonstrators. Two sources in Khorugh confirmed to RFE/RL that three people were injured and were taken to the hospital.

The ministry said that the regional prosecutor's office initiated a criminal case against the organizers of the protest.

The situation in Badakhshan has been tense since November 2021, when security forces fatally wounded Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a local man wanted on charges of kidnapping. Local people rallied at the time, demanding a probe into Ziyobekov's death.

The rally turned violent when protesters tried to seize the local government building, prompting security forces to fire into the crowd, killing at least one person.

Violence continued for several days.

Protests are rare in the tightly controlled country of 9.5 million, where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled for nearly three decades.

Tensions between the government and residents of the restive region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region, has been home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict.