In this briefing, ARTICLE 19 comments on the new provisions on “false information”, recently adopted in Tajikistan, and their compliance with international freedom of expression standards. This legislative amendment, adopted in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, was reportedly adopted in response to publications of journalists, bloggers and civic activists about Covid-19 infection cases and unfair distribution of humanitarian assistance in the country.
It raised several concerns within civil society and media organisations who feared possible abuse of the law targeting independent media and dissenting voices. The provisions in question were adopted without open and accessible public consultations. Concerns raised by local civil society about potential negative consequences for freedom of expression and media freedom were ignored by the authorities. The Briefing also offers a set of recommendations for Tajikistan’s authorities, civil society and media sector to design an effective positive response to the problem of disinformation around health issues and beyond.
In June 2020, Tajikistan adopted amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences and introduced a new provision – Article 374(1) which proscribes dissemination of false information. More specifically, this Article penalises two conducts:
- Dissemination of deliberately false information via means of mass information, Internet or other means of electric communication when dangerous diseases are emerging and spreading or when quarantine-associated limitation measures are being imposed; and
- Dissemination of untrue statements regarding techniques and methods of protection and other measures adopted to ensure public safety under aforesaid conditions. Penalties include fines for natural and legal persons and administrative arrest of up to 15 days for natural persons.
At the time of the publication of this analysis, it is not yet clear how provisions of Article 374(1) have been implemented in practice. Nevertheless, ARTICLE 19 considers it important to analyse the respective legal provisions in the view of the impact which their adoption can have over Tajikistan’s media sector and the chilling effect it will cause on the media and critical voices in society.
ARTICLE 19 concludes that Article 374(1) of Tajikistan’s Code of Administrative Offences does not meet the requirements of the three-part test of permissible restrictions on freedom of expression. Although it pursues a legitimate aim of public health protection, it fails to meet the requirements of legality (overbroad and vague terminology) and necessity (it precludes free debate on the issues of public interest and may be abused to target independent media and dissenting voices).