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DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Europe's main human rights and security body, the OSCE, criticised Tajikistan on Monday over its maltreatment of independent media and urged it to improve its record.
Since September 29, several Tajik and foreign news websites have been inaccessible in the Central Asian nation, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement.
A number of independent newspapers and printing houses had been subjected to tax inspections, after which the printing houses refused to print a number of independent newspapers, citing technical reasons, the OSCE said.
"The practices of blocking websites, preventing newspapers from printing and launching tax or prosecutorial inspections ... are serious non-compliance with Tajikistan's OSCE media freedom commitments," senior OSCE official Dunja Mijatovic told Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi in a letter.
Mijatovic, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media, urged the Tajik authorities to recognise the importance of media pluralism and "reverse the ongoing deterioration of the media freedom situation in Tajikistan."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Davlatali Nazriyev said the Tajik authorities had received the OSCE letter but denied the charges.
"I daresay, Internet sites are not mass media, according to legislation," he told Reuters. "This is not only our legislation that states this, but also the legislation of countries in Europe," he added.
"As for newspapers, no newspapers were shut down, while the suspension of some of them is due to purely technical problems."
In the letter, the OSCE's Mijatovic raised cases pending against several local papers, several of which were facing closure because of disproportionate damages award by courts in libel cases brought by officials.
Tajikistan, an impoverished nation on a drug trafficking route from neighbouring Afghanistan, has been volatile since the end of a 1992-97 civil war between Islamists and government forces, in which tens of thousands of people were killed.
Some analysts say that President Imomali Rakhmon's Soviet-style crackdown on people officially deemed to be Islamist radicals fuels more violent attacks from extremist Islamic groups. More than 100 people have been jailed so far this year in Tajikistan for "preaching radical Islam."
"I believe such actions (against media) are an initiative of some state officials responsible for the country's ideology and keen to show that they are 'handling the situation' in conditions of political instability," Zafar Abdullayev, director of private news agency Avesta, told Reuters.
Avesta's site has been also blocked by the authorities. The agency had published critical opinions about official policies.
Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Jon Boyle