Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Tajik authorities “continued to jail government critics, including opposition activists and journalists, for lengthy prison terms on politically motivated grounds.”  The government also “severely” restricted freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion, including through heavy censorship of the Internet, says the New York-based watchdog’s annual report on human rights published on January 13.

According to the report, Tajikistan’s dire human rights situation worsened further in 2019. Authorities reportedly continued a crackdown on government critics, jailing opposition activists, journalists, and even social media users perceived to be disloyal for lengthy prison terms.

The report notes that prison conditions are abysmal, with regular reports of torture. 

Authorities reportedly harassed relatives of peaceful dissidents abroad and used politically motivated extradition requests made via INTERPOL, the international police organization, to forcibly return political opponents from abroad.

“Authorities regularly harass the Tajikistan-based relatives of peaceful dissidents who live abroad. Activists based in France, Germany, and Poland told Human Rights Watch that their relatives are regularly visited by security services who pressured them to denounce them and provide information on their whereabouts or activities and threatened them with imprisonment if their relatives continue their peaceful opposition work,” the report says.

Freedom of expression and religion are reportedly severely restricted, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are subjected to intimidation, and the internet is heavily censored.  

According to the report, authorities regularly block access to a wide spectrum of internet news and social media sites.  They reportedly also cut access to mobile and messaging services when critical statements about the president, his family, or the government appear online.

Over 25 journalists have been forced in recent years to leave the country and to live in exile, the report says, noting that journalists are frequently the subject of attacks.

According to the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (Nansmit), it receives at least 10 reports each month from journalists regarding threats and restrictions on access to information while conducting their work.