Tajik journalists confront Syria war recruitment

Recruitment of young people to join the conflict in Syria is a growing problem in Tajikistan. A group of ambitious journalism students took on the problem and came out with a fatwa on the other side

After the students started investigating the issue, the government-regulated body that offers religious guidance in the country issued a fatwa denouncing participation in the Syrian conflict.

“Lack of awareness makes people victims of extremists’ scams,” said one of the journalists. Fighting factions in the Syrian conflict spread extremist speech online as part of their strategy to recruit new fighters.

The students, who attended the School of Multimedia Journalism, which is run by IMS’ partner the non-governmental organisation Dast ba Dast, were part of a training programme on multimedia journalism for semi-professional journalists.

“The recruiters first become friends with those they want to recruit. Then they start talking about religion and war, and how it is important for these youngsters to fight for the religion of Muslims,” another of the journalists behind the investigation said. “They also recruit girls to come to Syria.”

As part of their investigation, the journalists of the School of Multimedia Journalism approached the Ulamo Council of Tajikistan, the government-regulated body that controls Islamic activities and offers religious guidance. The young journalists were unsure about the facts and about religious war and jihad, and were wondering if all Muslims were supposed to fight for religion somewhere. They visited the Ulamo Council on an ongoing basis for nearly a month trying to get answers to their questions.

“We did it because we don’t want war in our society,” one of the journalists states. “We have already had bad experiences of war. We are tired of it.”

“Each time, the Council asked us to come back the next day. This raised our interest in the issue, so we continued chasing them for answers,” said one of the journalists.

A month into their investigation, the journalists were told by the Council that a new fatwa had been issued denouncing participation in the Syrian conflict.

“The new fatwa announced that participation in the Syrian war is a great sin,” one journalist said. The young journalists were the first to receive and publish the information, which was soon republished by the rest of the Tajik media.

The adoption of the fatwa is the result of hard work of the IMS-supported journalists and shows how investigative reports can have crucial impact on society.

International Media Support has worked in Tajikistan since the fall of 2011 focusing on improving the conditions of media through better access to information, increasing awareness of laws that work against media and strengthening investigative reporting. IMS’ activities during the past year includes nine trainings that were conducted in Tajik and Russian for 131 students aged 12 to 25 between June 2014 and January 2015. More than half of the participants were females.

The names of the two journalists are withheld due to safety reasons.