DUSHANBE / GENEVA (9 March 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, today expressed grave concern about increasing restrictions on opposition parties, civil society and the media over the past year in Tajikistan. He also cautioned about the widespread blocking of websites and networks, including mobile services by the Tajik authorities.
“The people of Tajikistan enjoy fundamental protections under their Constitution and human rights law, but those protections are eroding as the Government punishes dissent, limits access to alternative voices in the media and online, and shrinks the space for civil society,” Mr. Kaye said at the conclusion of a week-long official visit* to the country.
The UN expert voiced particular concern over the recent ban of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the prosecution of at least thirteen of its leaders in secret trials: “The drastic measures taken against IRPT represent a serious setback for an open political environment. The Government accuses the IRPT and its members of serious crimes but it has refused to give public access to the trial and evidence.”
Mr. Kaye also drew attention to the attacks on members of Group 24 and other independent politicians. Criminal cases have also been brought against lawyers defending opposition leaders, and other critical voices also reported harassment.
The Special Rapporteur urged the Government to release all persons detained on political grounds and ensure due process and a fair trial for those charged with serious crimes. “Secrecy is unjustifiable; media and civil society must have full access to these trials.”
During his visit, the expert received numerous reports from journalists of pressure to refrain from covering issues of public interest, especially those related to the political environment. “Tajikistan’s law extends important formal protections to the independent media and non-governmental organizations, but journalists and civil society activists nonetheless face harassment in the deepening atmosphere of restrictions,” he stated.
“The Government raised its national security concerns with me, which are grounds of concern for any government. Yet banning peaceful political opposition forces and harassing lawyers, journalists and activists undermine security and generate tensions and long term instability,” he pointed out.
“I am glad that the Tajik Parliament did not adopt recent proposals which would permit the suspension of media outlets without a court order for three month periods,” the expert said, while stressing the importance of establishing an independent regulatory system for all types of media.
Non-Governmental Organizations have also reported a deterioration of the space for their work over the last year. “New amendments to the Law on Public Association pertaining to foreign funds place a burden on many NGOs,” Mr. Kaye said. “I am already hearing numerous complaints about intrusive inspection as well as reports of the closure of some organizations.”
“Tajikistan still enjoys an active civil society community and should make sure it is well preserved,” the human rights expert said. “Governments must see NGOs as their best partners in the promotion of safety and development.”
Referring to the blocking of websites and networks, including mobile services, the Special Rapporteur underscored that these measures are disproportionate and incompatible with international standards. “Parliament should consider adopting legislation that would impose restrictions on the Government’s ability to block the Internet and mobile communications,” he stated.
“The interference of Government in communications and the reports on the plans to expand surveillance capacity harm the entire society. Reducing access to information undermines not only public debate but the innovation necessary to build a free and growing economy,” the UN expert added.
Mr. Kaye concluded by underlining his intention to work further with the Tajik Government to improve the legal and political environment for fundamental rights. “Tajikistan maintains a very good and open dialogue with various human rights mechanisms. I thank the authorities for their openness to engage in frank discussions and I look forward to exchanging information on my concerns,” he said
The expert, who visited the country at the invitation of the Government of Tajikistan, met with various national authorities, including the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Culture. He also held discussions with non-governmental organizations, journalists, the media and relatives of detained activists and lawyers.
The Special Rapporteur will prepare a report to the Human Rights Council on the main findings of his visit and make recommendations on the promotion of the right to freedom of expression in Tajikistan.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17193&LangID=E