Radio Free Europe

RFE/RL journalists report the news in 22 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established, including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia.

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Tajikistan Announces 'Anti-Terrorist Operation' As Protests Roil Gorno-Badakhshan.

Local media reports quoted witnesses as saying several protesters were injured during the fresh clashes.

Local media reports quoted witnesses as saying several protesters were injured during the fresh clashes.

DUSHANBE -- Tajik authorities have announced the start of what they are calling "an anti-terrorist operation" in the volatile Gorno-Badakhshan region, amid deadly protests.

The demonstrators are demanding the resignation of the regional governor and the mayor of the regional capital for failing to investigate the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody.

The Interior Ministry said on May 18 that residents of the restive region's Rushon district blocked a highway to the regional capital, Khorugh, and clashed with law enforcement officers for a second day as they tried to clear the road.

Local media reports quoted witnesses as saying several protesters were injured during the fresh clashes. The Interior Ministry, however, has not confirmed the reports.

The day before, the ministry said one protester was killed and three law enforcement officers wounded as security forces used rubber bullets and tear gas against the protesters.

Four RFE/RL journalists -- two from its Tajik Service (known as Radio Ozodi) and two from Current Time -- were attacked on May 17 by unknown assailants after they interviewed an activist accused of organizing the protest.

The Interior Ministry said the decision to start the "anti-terrorist operation" was made because the highway was blocked by "members of an organized criminal group with the goal to destabilize the social and political situation" in the region.

It added that the protesters were supported by unnamed international terrorist groups, who, according to the ministry, supplied the protesters with weapons and ammunition and sent their representatives to the region "to conduct terrorist acts."

It gave no evidence to back up the claim.

The protesters have insisted their actions are peaceful and that they have a right to peaceful demonstrations. Opposition groups based abroad have called on Tajik authorities to stop what they called the "persecution of peaceful demonstrators" in Badakhshan.

The protests started earlier in the week after the regional authorities refused to consider the resignation of Governor Alisher Mirzonabot, and Khorugh Mayor Rizo Nazarzoda.

The situation in the restive region that borders with Afghanistan has been tense since November 2021 when security forces fatally wounded Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a local man wanted on charges of kidnapping. Locals rallied at the time to demand a probe into Ziyobekov's death.

The rally turned violent when protesters tried to seize the local government building, prompting security forces to fire into the crowd, killing at least one person.

The violence then continued for several days.

Protests are rare in the tightly controlled country of 9.5 million where President Emomali Rahmon has ruled for nearly three decades.

Tensions between the government and residents of the restive region have simmered ever since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region, has been home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict.

While it occupies almost half of the entire country, its population is a mere 250,000. The region is difficult to travel around because of the mountainous terrain, while its economy is wracked by unemployment, difficult living conditions, and high food prices.

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