Eventually, the media credentials were returned. Radio Ozodi is an important news source in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, with 21 million visits to its website, more than 200 million YouTube views in 2018 and a small radio broadcast presence.
Now, the president is once again threatening the outlet’s media credentials. According to the service, nine Radio Ozodi journalists and support staff are barred from working because they have not been given credentials by the foreign ministry. Three of them are new hires, and six are awaiting required annual renewals. Friday is the deadline for the ministry to renew the credentials of an additional nine staffers.
Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin said at an August news conference that “we will never close Radio Ozodi here, but we will probably not register those employees of Radio Ozodi who let in their articles even the smallest damage of the current state policy.” Clearly, Mr. Rahmon has studied the dictator’s modern handbook: better not to actually close down the news media, which might trigger an outcry, but rather just squeeze the workers.
The intimidation is a hardship for journalists, but it is also an insult to the people of Tajikistan. They have precious few independent news sources like Radio Ozodi, which produces reports that go beyond the stale government-controlled news media. Recent stories have touched on such sensitive subjects as forced army recruiting, an attempt to harass exiled dissidents by putting them on a terrorist watch list and the creation of Internet troll factories to pursue the president’s critics.
There are plenty of stories to be found in Mr. Rahmon’s nepotism; he has nine children, and many of them, as well as other relatives, have found cozy and lucrative spots in such places as the national bank. The president appears to be grooming his son, now mayor of the capital city, Dushanbe, as his successor. The president also has crushed free speech, blocked popular social media and news sites, jailed those who dare criticize him and chased dissidents abroad.
He should read closely the letters sent to him recently from members of Congress, which funds RFE/RL, cautioning that withholding press credentials for Radio Ozodi could endanger Tajikistan’s U.S. security aid, which was $33 million in fiscal 2019. Mr. Rahmon would be wise to grant all the press credentials now. His people would be better off for it, too.