WASHINGTON - RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has criticized the government of Tajikistan for obstructing the efforts of the broadcasters' journalists to cover the coronavirus pandemic in the Central Asian nation.
Fly expressed frustration at the government’s attempts to interfere with the operations of the service, known locally as Radio Ozodi, at a time when information "is needed more than ever.”
Fly spelled out his objections to Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin in a letter dated March 31.
Fly's letter comes as Muhriddin's ministry is set to decide on long-standing accreditation requests from Radio Ozodi journalists on April 1.
The ministry has been reluctant since late October to fully grant one-year accreditations to 18 RFE/RL journalists and staff members of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service whose credentials have been withheld by the ministry or which expired on November 1.
The Tajik Foreign Ministry on January 21 said it had issued six-month accreditations to four employees of the bureau, including a driver. Accreditations for seven other journalists, including two former bureau chiefs, whom RFE/RL's Tajik Service had to replace due to the lack of accreditation, are pending, it added.
The RFE/RL president said authorities have refused to meet with Radio Ozodi’s reporters and have excluded them from public health briefings.
“We suspect, bizarrely, that it was precisely our active reporting about the virus that led the government last week to ban Ozodi’s website and censor this coverage," Fly said.
Radio Ozodi plays an outsized role in Tajikistan, a poor Central Asian state bordering China and Afghanistan. Critics have assailed the government there for not acknowledging that there have been coronavirus cases in the country and that they are being registered as other diseases.
Fly deplored the actions, describing them as "an effort to control who works for Ozodi and what they report," and as a betrayal of an explicit pledge made by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to RFE/RL last year.
He decried other efforts to harass and intimidate Ozodi staff members, including comments posted by some government officials applauding the denial of accreditation, accusing Ozodi journalists of “incitement” and “disloyalty to the state,” and labeling the service’s Dushanbe bureau “a nest for espionage.”