UN Rapporteur recommends that Tajik authorities should not hold the constitutional referendum

10/03/2016 10:51
Asia-Plus
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DUSHANBE, March 10, 2016, Asia-Plus -- The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the protection of the right to freedom of expression recommended that Tajik authorities should not hold the constitutional referendum in May because the preparations for it are taking place without necessary discussions.

Speaking at a press conference in Dushanbe, Mr. David Kaye noted on March 9 that the amendments proposed to the Constitution will lead to many problems.  “They limit debates and criticism because any criticism will be taken as criticism of the president since all amendments proposed to the Constitution concern, first of all, the head of state,” UN human rights expert noted.

According to him, there is also pressure on civil society and media in Tajikistan, and practically there is no political opposition.  Therefore, the referendum is unlikely to be held freely, Mr. Kaye noted.  “Therefore, we recommend that the Tajik authorities should not hold the referendum or they should allow open discussion of the proposed changes,” he said.

“My first concern is that even if the amendments were progressive there needs to be space for public debate about them now.  So my main concern is about the present, the debate about the amendments, not the amendments themselves,” Kaye said.

Among other things, Mr. Kaye also spoke about his concern for the jailed members of the banned Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).

“I recognize that there is a serious security problem in this part of the world, in particular in Tajikistan and in this neighborhood.  But I’m afraid that the security situation has been used as a pretext, as an excuse, to crack down on freedom of expression, whether in the media or in civil society,” he said.

“I’m especially concerned that the detention of member of the party and the prosecution has not been exposed to public debate, that the evidence has not been exposed to public scrutiny and the trial has not been opened to the public or the media,” Kaye said. 

Kaye said that he too had been denied any access to IRPT members.

“In my statement I called for the release of all member of the IRPT who have been detained.  I sought and asked the government for access to the detainees and did not receive a response,” he said.  “I think this is unfortunate given the closed nature of the proceedings.”

UN human rights expert also expressed concern about lack of media freedoms.

Kaye said that proper media coverage of events inside the country has suffered as a result.

“It is clear to me that legal protections in the constitution are being eroded and that independent journalists are facing serious forms of harassment that is leading to self-censorship and a lack of information throughout the country,” he said.

Limitations on free access to information in Tajikistan are now increasingly being extended to online platforms.

“Anybody who tries to get access to the Internet in Tajikistan understands that certain websites are blocked, certain social media is blocked, and that denies people to basic information and ways of communicating with each other and the outside world,” UN Rapporteur said.

Mr. Kaye said that he will be drafting a report on his findings and presenting to the UN Human Rights Council.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression conducted his first visit to Tajikistan at the invitation of the Government of Tajikistan.  He arrived in Dushanbe on March 3 to assess the situation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the country.

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