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The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is calling on the Tajik President to veto amendments passed by Parliament on 19 July that would include Internet publications in the country's defamation laws.

The amendments to Articles 135 and 136 of Tajikistan's penal code would criminalise defamatory statements published on websites, on top of those made in print and broadcast media. Penalties range from a fine of up to 1,000 times the minimum monthly wage to two years in prison.

According to ARTICLE 19, the defamation provisions are often applied when the media criticises politicians. "The provisions granting special protection to public officials go against the international guarantee of freedom of expression," says ARTICLE 19. "Public figures should tolerate a higher, not lower degree of criticism than ordinary citizens."

CPJ says the amendments would criminalise critical reporting and commentary on Internet news sites, including regional websites Ferghana and Centrasia, or Tajikistan-based Charogiruz and Tajikistantimes, and lead to self-censorship among contributors.

Because the Internet hasn't been formally regulated, it has been instrumental in disseminating alternative news, says ARTICLE 19. But it is still largely inaccessible to the general public due to grossly insufficient infrastructure, intermittent electricity and high costs.

Visit these links:
- CPJ:
- ARTICLE 19 report, "The Policy of Control: The State of Freedom of Expression in Tajikistan":
(31 July 2007)

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