Kloop.kg, an independent Kyrgyzstan-focused news agency based in Bishkek, has reported that Tajikistan’s Committee for Emergency Situations (CES) has used a photograph taken by one of its reporters in Kyrgyzstan’s Leilek district – one of the key theaters of combat during last week’s border clash – to promote a dangerous narrative of an anti-Tajik pogrom.
As noted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the government of Tajikistan had been reticent about casualties suffered on its side. That changed on Monday, May 3, when the CES announced via a press release that a total of 14 residential buildings were burned down in the communities of Chorku (Isfara), Ovchikalacha Bobozhon, Surkh and Voruz, with an additional two houses and an “auxillary structure” damaged. The press release also noted that upwards to 15,000 residents were evacuated during the conflict, but by Monday had returned to their homes.
Attached to the press release is a photograph of a ruined house taken by Kloop.kg reporter Hamidullo Uzakov on May 2 in the village of Maksat on Kyrgyzstan’s side, one of the hardest hit villages according to both professional and citizen journalists . The house’s owner, named Nazimbay, explained that his home was burned down on the night of April 30 during the incursion by Tajikistan’s troops.
“[We built the house] seven-eight years ago,” Nazimbay explained to Kloop.kg. “There is nothing left of everything that we have earned in our entire life. [In the house] lived my mother, my family, niece and children. There were two families […] We are upset, but there is no way out, what to do? […] We are ordinary people; if they help, we will restore it.”
Factcheck.kg, like our colleagues at Kloop.kg, is based in Kyrgyzstan and thus naturally has patriotic feelings concerning the recent conflict. Nevertheless, we are committed to reporting on the situation in a non-partisan and objective manner – indeed, we believe that facts are the only way to prevent further violence.
We are perplexed by the CES’ decision to use a photograph from Kyrgyzstan’s side to illustrate casualties on Tajikistan’s side. Why did this happen? At the risk of speculating, we assess this as a subtle sign of the lack of press freedom in our neighbor, a sad reality long noted by international observers, such as Reporters Without Borders and the Media Sustainability Index .
With that in mind, we commend the efforts of our colleagues in Tajikistan who have been attempting to report independently and objectively on the conflict from their side of the border, although so far to little avail. This incident with the photograph, albeit small, underlines the necessity of their hard work, and we call on the international community to support them.