Repression of independent journalists in Central Asia: how dictatorial regimes “stick to” freedom of speech

A brutal campaign against independent journalists continues in Tajikistan. At least eight journalists have been arrested and convicted over the past two years on charges their families and colleagues say are fabricated and politically motivated. Among those convicted are such well-known names as Muhammad Sulton, Zavkibek Saidamini and Abdullo Gurbati. Journalists from Current Time reported this.

Muhammad Sulton, a freelance blogger, was reportedly sentenced to seven years in prison. He is known for his criticism of the authorities, especially regarding the government’s actions in the Gorno-Badakhshan region. Zavkibek Saidamini and Abdullo Gurbati also received harsh sentences for their journalistic activities, which often dealt with social and economic issues. Human rights organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Radio Liberty emphasize that these arrests and harsh sentences are aimed at suppressing any form of dissent and independent journalism in the country. The families of the convicted express deep concern about the health of their loved ones and the fact that confessions were extracted under pressure and torture.

These cases are part of a broader campaign to suppress freedom of speech in Tajikistan. The authorities manage to control the information space, not allowing alternative opinions and criticism. Journalists and bloggers in Tajikistan work under constant fear of reprisals, which further complicates their work and ability to cover topics important to society.
According to CPJ, the arrested journalists are subjected to physical and psychological torture and are also under constant pressure from the authorities, which makes it almost impossible for them to carry out their professional activities. Local independent publications and media also face blocking and restrictions, which further aggravates the situation with freedom of speech in the country. These developments are of grave concern to the international community and human rights organizations, who continue to call on the Tajik authorities to stop harassing journalists and respect the rights to freedom of expression and press freedom.

Let us add that in Turkmenistan the situation with independent journalists and activists is no better. Despite international calls for respect for freedom of speech, the country’s authorities are tightening control over the information space and using repressive measures against those who try to highlight the real problems of the country.
One striking example is the case of Nurgeldy Khalykov, an independent journalist who was arrested and sentenced to several years in prison. Khalykov is known for his critical materials on the social and economic situation in Turkmenistan. He was charged with “discrediting the state” and “disseminating false information.” Other journalists, such as Saparmamed Nepeskuliev and Guvanchyn Guvanchev, were also detained and ill-treated for their professional activities. Nepeskuliev was arrested after publishing materials about corruption and human rights violations in the country, and Guvanchev was targeted for his independent investigations.

Stalking methods
The authorities of Turkmenistan use various methods to suppress independent journalism. These include physical violence, psychological pressure, false accusations, long prison sentences and limited access to lawyers and relatives. In conditions of strict censorship and Internet blocking, independent journalists are forced to work under conditions of constant risk to their lives and freedom.

However, international human rights organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Amnesty International have repeatedly condemned the repressive measures of the Turkmen authorities and called for the immediate release of all wrongfully detained journalists. However, despite these calls, the situation in the country remains critical. Turkmenistan, along with North Korea and Eritrea, is among the countries with the most severe restrictions on freedom of speech and press. Brutal repressions against independent journalists are clear evidence of total state control over all spheres of life and the absence of any real rights and freedoms for citizens.