October 18, 2011

President Emomali Rahmon
via Tajikistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Dushanbe Rudaki 42
Fax: 992 372 210 259

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to defending freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the conviction of BBC Central Asian Service journalist Urinboy Usmonov.

According to our information, Urinboy Usmonov was found guilty of spreading Islamic propaganda through his reporting on the banned extremist Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahir. He was sentenced to three years in prison at a trial in Khujand, northern Tajikistan, on October 14, 2011, and was immediately released under amnesty by the presiding judge. There have been reports that Usmonov suffered torture and mistreatment during his detention.

Usmonov, who was arrested on June 13, 2011, was accused of membership of Hizb-ut-Tahir and of using the BBC “as a platform for Hizb-ut-Tahir propaganda.” He was first indicted on charges of “making public calls for mass disorder,” but this was later changed to “complicity in the activities of Hizb-ut-Tahir.” Usmonov’s trial began August 15, 2011, and, according to Usmonov’s lawyer Faiziniso Vokhidova, prosecutors “claimed as evidence” the articles about Hizb-ut-Tahir that Usmonov had downloaded from the Internet, as well as the fact that Usmonov had met with several of their members. The BBC has stated, however, that “Usmonov as a BBC journalist is expected to cover all sides of any story and in the course of his work it is only natural that he would meet and interview people representing all shades of opinion.” The BBC denied the charges against Usmonov, and Usmonov plans to appeal the sentence.

While in detention, Usmonov’s family had reported that they were concerned about his health as he suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. Usmonov was visited in prison on June 27, 2011, by Hamid Ismalov (also from the BBC Central Asian Service), who reported that he was “horrified” to find his colleague in an extremely frail physical and psychological state.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that Urinboy Usmonov was convicted solely for his legitimate journalistic activity in violation of his right to freedom of expression. While we welcome Usmonov’s release under amnesty, we nevertheless call on the Tajik authorities to respect their commitments to protect freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Tajikistan is a signatory.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Mr. Abdujabbor Shirinov
Ambassador of Tajikistan to the United States
Embassy of Tajikistan to the United States
1005 New Hampshire Ave. NW
Washington D.C., 20037
Fax: (202) 223-6091

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