The most dangerous place in the world for journalists: Tajikistan p. 17

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez THE MOST DANGEROUS place in the world for journalists right now is the former Soviet Republic of Tajikistan, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Over the past two and a half years, CPJ has documented the murders of at least 26 journalists, who were killed because of their profession, as well as the current imprisonment of four television journalists who face the death sentence for treason.
There has been no official investigation of the murders, and the journalists in prison have been awaiting trial for more than 18 months, the New York City-based CPJ reported.
Tajikistan has been wracked by an extremely violent civil war since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. According to CPJ, in this nation of 5.4 million people, almost 50,000 have been killed and another 500,000 have been displaced.
As the report explained, "Most of the journalists who have been killed or driven into exile worked for Tajik-language publications associated with political factions, ethnic groups and Islamic regional forces represented in the previous government.
"After one year in power, the coalition government was overthrown in November 1992 by former Communists, who were aided by a paramilitary organization known as the People's Front.
"Members of the People's Front are believed by journalists, opposition sources, diplomats, foreign scholars and other credible sources to have been responsible for most of the deaths," CPJ reported.
Following undocumented reports of 11 journalists murdered in 1993, in addition to the four deaths that CPJ confirmed for its annual report, the organization launched an investigation, which included sending staffers to Tajikistan and meeting with exiled sources worldwide, explained CPJ executive director William A. Orme, Jr. during a Washington, D.C., press conference.
At one point, Orme said, they had a list of 40 or 50 names, although CPJ could not confirm that all were journalists or that they were killed because of their profession.
The list of 26 confirmed murders, however, "is without a doubt an underestimate," he added.
Contrasting the Tajikistan situation with the turmoil in Bosnia, where there have been 17 confirmed deaths since 1992, Orme pointed out that in Bosnia, many of the deaths were casualties of war reporting ? such as driving over a land mine ? whereas, in Tajikistan, "the cases appear to be deliberate political assassinations."
"The majority [of those killed] were people who struggled on behalf of freedom of the press, democracy and reform," said former Tajik presidential candidate Davlat Khudonazarov, who fled his country after several assassination attempts.
His comments were translated by Vladimir Klimenko, a freelance journalist who met Khudonazarov in Tajikistan.
"These are people who took advantage of [former Soviet president Mikhail] Gorbachev's perestroika to open journals of their own. They have borne the brunt of punishment of the regime that has come to power," he said, adding that there are "hundreds of journalists now living abroad as refugees."
Khudonazarov added that, "Nothing good is possible without freedom of the press, neither democratic changes nor reform."


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