For more than a year, Tajikistan’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) has been the epicenter of unrest and tensions in the country. Located in the Pamir mountains and often referred to as “the roof of the world,” GBAO is home to the Pamiris, a distinct ethnic and cultural minority group who belong to Shia Islam’s Ismaili community and constitute three percent of the population. The rest of the population, consisting of mainly ethnic Tajiks, belong to the Hanafi School of Sunni Islam. In May 2022, in response to peaceful protests against harassment and persecution by law-enforcement and security forces, the central government launched an “anti-terrorist” operation in the region, killing dozens and arresting hundreds of locals.
The remote location, scarcity of roads, absence of trains, and the Tajik government’s authoritarian practices have limited access to information about developments in the region. This has created an additional demand for local news organizations to provide unbiased and uninterrupted coverage of everything happening in GBAO. Global Voices spoke to Pamir Daily News to find out how local news organizations function in authoritarian countries and report on sensitive issues, challenging official state narratives. Established in 2019, Pamir Daily News is one of the very few local and independent informational agencies that provide coverage of events in GBAO. It provides coverage of political, economic, and social developments in Russian, with occasional posts available in English. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Nurbek Bekmurzaev (NB): Can you please tell me about how Pamir Daily News was created? What motivated you to establish it? What is the purpose of your organization?
Pamir Daily News (PDN): The idea of creating an independent information portal that would cover the situation in GBAO appeared quite a long time ago. The fact is that for thirty years of Tajikistan’s independence, independent media have not appeared in the region, and the existing international media in Tajikistan do not have the opportunity to work on the territory of GBAO. They are not issued accreditation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan.
In addition, relations between the center and the population of GBAO have always remained difficult, and the authorities have repeatedly used military force to assert their authority, which led to casualties among the civilian population. However, due to the lack of coverage, this was not mentioned anywhere. In such circumstances, it is very easy for the authorities to label the local population as separatists and terrorists and demonize the population, which, in fact, they continue to do to this day.
Therefore, our main goal is to objectively cover events as much as possible and convey alternative information about what is happening in GBAO to our audience. Neither the government nor anyone else has the right to monopolize access to information and misinform the population in order to achieve their political goals.
NB: What are the peculiarities of covering a region, populated by an ethnic and cultural minority such as Pamiris in GBAO, which does not receive a lot of attention in large media resources?
PDN: The coverage of events in GBAO can be assessed in two ways. On the one hand, the population is not large, about 220 thousand people. If there are only several sources covering all the districts, then any information can be obtained very quickly and verified through other sources.
It is becoming more and more difficult to work in such an authoritarian state as Tajikistan, since such activities can easily be assessed as espionage or extremism. In our case, Pamir Daily News has become very politicized over the past few years, as we actively covered the ongoing suppression of protests in GBAO and repression against the local population, although we did not set ourselves such a goal initially. But I won’t be surprised if we are included in the list of some extremist organizations, since this is a very popular practice for the Tajik authorities.
Another feature is that if your audience is a minority, then you are often expected to show solidarity in doing your job. But sometimes such solidarity does not fit into the professional framework of journalism, and then a massive hatred from the audience begins. We try to stay as professional as possible.
NB: Who is your audience? Among which groups and in which parts of the world is your content most in demand?
PDN: We have a fairly large audience, given that the population of GBAO is just over 220,000 people. On Instagram, the number of our subscribers is about 45,000, and on Facebook, about 30,000, and on Telegram, more than 15,000. The coverage of our publications and the number of engagements in them often exceeds 200,000. This is a very high activity level. I explain this by the fact that we are almost the only resource that writes about the problems of GBAO and, accordingly, there is a relatively high demand for the content we publish.
Most of our readers, judging by the statistics, are located in Russia and Tajikistan, followed by the USA, Europe and other countries. Most of our readers are young people under 45. Moreover, over the past two years, when covering events, we have been quoted by dozens of regional and international media from Central Asia, Russia, Europe and the United States. Our information has appeared in the annual reports of the US State Department, the UN and other international organizations. This is a great achievement for us and a very big responsibility.
NB: What challenges do you face as a media organization whose news coverage does not always match the official version of the Tajik central authorities?
PDN: Due to the fact that working in Tajikistan is becoming more and more dangerous, we initially began our work anonymously. At the same time, we proceeded from the fact that our activities should be as objective as possible, and the information should be verified. To this day, we continue to follow these principles. On the one hand, this protects our team from any hypothetical pressure, but on the other hand, it reduces confidence in us as a resource, because it is not clear who stands behind it. But, unfortunately, the reality of authoritarian regimes is such that sometimes you have to sacrifice something.
The main difficulty is that people are afraid to directly contact us. They send us anonymous information, and then we try to verify it through our sources. There are risks associated with the fact that we may be included in some kind of banned list, which may create inconvenience for our audience.
But smart authorities would not go so far as to put spokes in the wheels of such small media as ours. I am sure that through such channels the decision centers receive a lot of things that they would never have been told through their official channels. Therefore, it is possible that those whom we often criticize have an interest in our work.
Source: Good Men Project