Urinboy Usmonov, journalist with the British Broadcasting Service’s Central Asian Service, has been found guilty of spreading Islamic propaganda through his reporting on the banned extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahir. Despite the welcome news that Usmonov was immediately released under an amnesty law and allowed to walk free, PEN International remains concerned that the charges were the result of Usmonov’s legitimate journalistic activity. PEN is also troubled by reports that Usmonov suffered abuse and mistreatment while in detention. PEN calls on the Tajik authorities to respect their commitments to protect the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Background Information

Urinboy Usmonov (60) was found guilty of spreading Islamic propaganda through his reporting, and received a three-year sentence at a trial in Khujand, northern Tajikistan, on October 14, 2011; however, he was immediately given an amnesty by the presiding judge. Usmonov’s lawyer has said the journalist plans to appeal the sentence in order to restore his reputation.
 
The statement released by the BBC condemned the verdict, claiming that “no evidence of wrong doing whatsoever emerged during the trial” and continued to insist that only a “complete exoneration” of the journalist would be acceptable. Peter Horrocks, director of the BBC World Service, added that the organization planned to support Usmonov’s appeal against the verdict.
 
It was further claimed that Usmonov suffered torture and mistreatment during his detention. The journalist reported that he had been forced to sign a confession and that guards had beaten him and stabbed cigarettes out on his arms.
 
In a separate case, another Tajik reporter, Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov, was reportedly barred from journalistic work for three years on October 14, 2011, and ordered to pay a 35,800-somoni (approximately $7,100) fine for causing moral damages in his articles criticizing local authorities. Prosecutors have been calling on the court to sentence Ismoilov to 16 years' imprisonment for insulting officials, defamation, and inciting ethnic tensions. Again, the charges are believed to have resulted from his legitimate activity as a journalist.

Usmonov was originally arrested on June 13, 2011, and accused of membership of the banned extremist Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahir. He was later reported to have been indicted on charges of “making public calls for mass disorder,” which carried a maximum 15-year sentence. This was finally changed to “complicity in the activities of Hizb-ut-Tahrir,” for which he faces up to five years in prison. The BBC has vehemently denied the charges against Usmonov.

While in detention his 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.

Usmonov’s trail began on August 15, 2011. His lawyer, Faiziniso Vokhidova, stated that the prosecutors “claimed as evidence” articles about the banned extremist group which Usmonov had downloaded from the Internet, as well as the fact that he has met with several of their members. However, the BBC has previously stated 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.” His lawyer further claimed that he has furthermore been accused of using the BBC “as a platform for Hizb-ut-Tahrir propaganda.”

Write A Letter

  • Welcoming the news that Urinboy Usmonov has been granted amnesty;
  • Expressing concern, however, about the guilty verdict on charges that seem to be related to his legitimate activity as a journalist, and about reports that Usmonov suffered severe abuse while in detention;
  • Expressing concern at the non-custodial sentence handed to Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov, which again appears to be the result of his legitimate journalistic activity;
  • Calling on the Tajik authorities to respect their commitments to protect freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Send Your Letter To

President of Tajikistan
Mr. Emomali Rahmon
Email: mail@president.tj

Tajikistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Dushanbe Rudaki 42
734051
Fax. 992 372 210 259
Email: admin@mfa.tj

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Tajikistan in your country if possible.