(WiPC/IFEX) - The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International welcomes the news that Urunboy Usmonov, who has worked for ten years for the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) Central Asian Service, has been released on bail. However, the WiPC condemns his continued indictment on charges believed to be linked to his legitimate activity as a journalist and calls for an open and impartial investigation into all charges held against the journalist.
Usmonov was released on bail on 14 July 2011 after signing a written pledge to remain in Tajikistan to face criminal charges. The release follows increasing calls from the BBC, the European Union and a number of human rights NGOs for his release. Usmonov was arrested on 13 June 2011 and was initially accused of membership to the banned Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and of distributing leaflets and information about the group on social networking websites. He was indicted on 20 June 2011 and charged with 'making public calls to forcibly change the constitutional system of Tajikistan'. However, his lawyer has reported that, having dropped the initial two charges, her client has now been charged with 'failing to report the activities of the Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir to Tajik law enforcement agencies'.
The BBC's Global News director Peter Horrocks said the organization, which has held a number of vigils for Usmonov outside its World Service headquarters in central London, was "encouraged that Tajik authorities have considered our appeals". He added that the BBC continues to maintain that "Urunboy is innocent and all he was doing was his journalistic work for the BBC". Urunboy's son Oybek said that the release was "a great joy to us all after all we have been through" and sent a "massive thank you to everyone for all their support".
Usmonov was reported missing when he failed to return to his family home in the Northern Tajiki town of Khujand on 13 June 2011. He appeared at his family home the following day, 14 June, accompanied by members of the Tajik security services. They told his family that Usmonov had been arrested, and conducted a search of the house. It was reported that he had injuries which suggested that he had been beaten and that he had difficulty walking during this search. Usmonov's son Oybek said that although the police conducted a thorough search of the house they did not take anything away. It was reported that Usmonov was denied access to his lawyer while in custody and that his family were very concerned about his health, as he suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes. Usmonov was visited in prison on 27 June 2011 by Hamid Ismalov (also from the BBC's Central Asian Service), who reported that he was 'horrified' to find Usmonov in a very frail physical and psychological state.
Please send letters and emails to the Tajikistani authorities:
• Welcoming the release of Urunboy Usmonov on bail.
• Calling for a fair and impartial trial into any charges held against the journalist and for any charges resulting from his legitimate activity as a journalist to be dropped immediately.
• Calling on the government to ensure that it maintains the highest standards of respect for freedom of expression, particularly for journalists working within the country.