Tajikistan: Authorities Arrest Bloggers for “Immorality”

Harassment for posting allegedly obscene content seen as a means to further shrink freedom of speech.

Tajikistan: Authorities Arrest Bloggers for “Immorality”

Harassment for posting allegedly obscene content seen as a means to further shrink freedom of speech.

Tuesday, 14 March, 2023


The Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting is a project of IWPR

In a new clampdown on free expression, police in Tajikistan have arrested and detained several bloggers in recent months for using “obscene and indecent language”.

Most recently, on January 18, the department of internal affairs in Dushanbe detained Habibullo Himmatzoda for five days of administrative detention on charges of “spreading offensive videos full of abusive expressions and foul language".

No details were reported of what exactly the 21-year-old had said or shown on his Instagram profile.

In early December, Saida Latifova, a 28-year-old Dushanbe resident was fined on similar charges after police stated that she had used “foul language to insult other interlocutors during a live broadcast on the Tik-Tok social network”.

In both cases, law enforcement agencies did not specify what words and expressions were used to justify the arrests, but disseminated photos of the handcuffed bloggers widely.

“The authorities’ first goal is to increase control over public opinion, or rather over those who can shape public opinion. The second is to pretend that they are working, although their main task is not to educate bloggers,” media expert Abdumalik Kadyrov told IWPR, adding that “authorities have gone so far as to regulate public opinion that they are not knowledgeable about”.

Apart from the general wording “video of a sexual nature” and “use of foul and abusive language", police did not specify on which specific legal provisions the bloggers were arrested and punished. The bloggers themselves maintained a low profile and di not speak once released.

Arrests on such dubious grounds are common in Tajikistan. Authorities in the Central Asian country, run by President Emomali Rahmon for nearly 30 years, have been criticised by international human rights groups over their pressure on independent media, civil society and political pluralism. The country ranks low in human rights’ indexes; in 2022 the international watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked it 152 out of 180 countries in in its 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

Last year, Tajik courts sentenced seven journalists and bloggers to prison terms ranging from seven to 20 years on charges of spreading false information, involvement in the activities of extremist groups, and cooperation with banned organisations. The journalists and rights groups have called the charges bogus and politically motivated, with international organisations and diplomatic representations calling on authorities to release them.


In late November 2022, the arrest of Fatima Kurbanova sparked a heated debate on social media in Tajikistan. The 19-year-old from Buston, a town in Tajikistan’s northern region of Sughud, was arrested and detained for ten days for "distributing sexually explicit videos and using abusive language…in order to increase the number of her subscribers on social networks”.

A ministry of internal affairs statement noted that "these publications are completely alien to the customs of the Tajik people” but did not specify which videos the arrest was based on, nor which articles of the administrative or criminal code Kurbanova had violated.

The teenager was known to have posted the sentence, “It's so cold outside, your balls will freeze up,” on social media.

Her case divided social media users between conservative voices who supported the authorities’ decision, and liberal voices, including civil society activists, who stated that in a democracy no one should be arrested and imprisoned for expressing an opinion, even if it contained profanity.

The police said the aim was to “raise citizens' awareness and manner of using social media and to preserve national culture and identity”.

Kadyrov argued that the stated moral norms were too vague a category, leaving room for the police to go after anyone on claims of supposedly immoral conduct.

“The authorities thus draw a certain line and think they can judge the behaviour of citizens accordingly,” he said. “Our bloggers’ actions are not illegal, but our authorities use every rude word, which in itself is not forbidden by law, as a pretext to create new cases out of thin air.”

Tajik journalist Yokub Khalimov said that pressure was likely to grow.

"Not everyone who gets punished is a blogger,” he continued. “There are also ordinary users who occasionally post videos or write something on social networks. Now they are punishing ordinary social media users for immorality and disorderly conduct.”

This poses a threat to further restriction of human rights and freedoms and more unlawful convictions, experts note.

“The result will be that without the authorities' consent, you will no longer be entitled to [say] anything,” Kadyrov warned. “You won't even be able to exercise the rights that are enumerated for you in the constitution. Consequently, we will end up a police state.”

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

Frontline Updates
Support local journalists