Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the withdrawal of newly approved legislative amendments in Tajikistan under which false or inaccurate Covid-19 coverage would be subject to heavy fines. This could lead to censorship and other abuses, RSF warns.
Under the amendments to the Administrative Code voted by the Tajik parliament on 10 June, anyone providing “false” or “inaccurate” information about Covid-19 in the media or on social media could be fined up to 1,160 somoni (995 euros) – nearly twice the minimum monthly wage.
“This new, vaguely defined legislation could be exploited to violate the right to information,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“Under international law, nothing ever justifies giving a public authority the power to decide what is true or false, or – without reference to a judge – to restrict the right of a person or media to freedom of expression on the grounds that what they say might be false or inaccurate. We call for the withdrawal of these amendments, which violate freedom of the press and expression.”
One of first targets of these amendments could be Kvtj.info, a website founded by civil society representatives that is keeping a tally of the number of Covid-19 deaths in Tajikistan, a tally verified by journalists based abroad. Its latest tally is 430, as against the official figure of 49. The site has been blocked within Tajikistan since 11 May.
Despite a surge in the number of pneumonia deaths, the authorities denied that the epidemic had reached Tajikistan until 30 April, 24 hours before a visit by a delegation from the World Health Organization. After just one month of lockdown, as against that the three that are usual in better equipped countries, the authorities now say the epidemic is under control and are preparing to loosen it.
RSF recommends that the Tajik authorities should combat disinformation by means of self-regulatory mechanisms that promote the best journalists standards and ethics, such as the Journalism Trust Initiative.
Launched by RSF and its partners, the JTI is a set of standards for reliable, trustworthy journalism with indicators that allow individual media outlets to assess themselves, to improve their practices to satisfy the standards, and to publish their evaluation results. The standards covered range from transparency of media ownership and revenue sources to correction procedures and other good practices.
Tajikistan is ranked 161st out of 180 countries and territories in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.