Fifteen nongovernmental organizations in Tajikistan, along with several noted journalists, have urged officials to "thoroughly" investigate the recent beatings of a journalist working for independent Asia Plus news agency.
In their open letter made public Wednesday and addressed to the presidential administration, the prosecutor-general's office and the country's ombudsman, the group — including well-known Tajik organizations defending civil rights, such as Apeiron, Nota Bene, The World of Law and the Independent Human Rights Center — called for the attackers of Abdulloh Ghurbati to be "adequately" punished.
The authors of the statement also called on Tajik authorities to comply with national and international standards recognized by Tajikistan and to abandon the practice of harassing journalists and putting pressure on their professional activities.
“The humiliation of journalists because of their professional activities, as well as the failure to properly respond and investigate such attacks on journalists and media representatives, can lead to a significant deterioration with the freedom of expression in Tajikistan, as impunity contributes to an atmosphere of fear, self-censorship, and a decrease in the activities of journalists and media outlets in the country," the letter said.
Ghurbati was attacked twice last month — on May 11 in Dushanbe near his home and on May 29 in the southern Khatlon region when he was working on a report about the aftermath of a recent landslide that killed two men.
Accusation of provocation
The assailants in the first attack have not yet been found, while in the second case, police tried to accuse Ghurbati of provoking the attack by entering — without permission — tents used by some local residents as temporary shelters after their houses were destroyed by the landslide.
Ghurbati rejected the claims, saying that he didn't even have a chance to enter any of the tents and that he was attacked far away from where they were located.
In the end, police identified the attackers as three local residents, who were found guilty of petty hooliganism and fined 580 somonis ($56) each.
The NGOs and journalists, meanwhile, stressed in their letter that the three attackers should have been charged with obstruction of the legitimate professional activities of a journalist, a more serious felony.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has condemned the attacks and has urged Tajik authorities to thoroughly investigate them.
In April, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Tajikistan 161st out of 180 countries for press freedom.
According to RSF, conditions for independent media working in Tajikistan have dramatically worsened in the last two years.