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Reporters freed after highly unjust convictions

Urinboy Usmonov
Urinboy Usmonov

Two journalists have been freed in Tajikstan after separate trials, but their convictions are symbolic of the government's tightening control over the media, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). They had been facing up to 16 years in jail. One of them is banned from reporting for three years.

Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov, a reporter for "Nuri Zindagi", was convicted on insult, incitement and libel, and ordered to pay a US$7,200 fine in connection with an article he wrote on local government corruption. With his alleged crimes carrying a sentence of up to 16 years, press freedom advocates were relieved by his release, especially after he spent much of the previous year in solitary confinement. However, Ismoilov's conviction and the court-ordered ban that he cannot work as a journalist for three year are startling evidence of the government's out-of-check power, the IFEX members say.

BBC correspondent Urinboy Usmonov was found guilty of failing to report on the activities of illegal Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, whose members he contacted while he covered the trials of several Hizb-ut-Tahrir followers. He was sentenced to three years in jail, but amnestied by the court. Earlier this year, Usmonov spent one month in jail, where he was tortured, reports RSF, before international pressure led to his release. He had been facing up to 15 years in jail on charges of making "public calls to forcibly change the constitutional system of Tajikistan."

"The sentences passed on Ismoilov and Usmonov were harsh and were intended to intimidate all of Tajikistan's journalists," says RSF. The organisation points out the government of Tajikistan is resorting to human rights-repressing measures as it attempts to root out alleged terrorist activity and tackle its deep economic crisis.

Both trials took place this past week in the northwestern city of Khujand, reports RSF. Both journalists are fighting their convictions on appeal.

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    CPJ is relieved by the release of Urinboy Usmonov and Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov, but condemns their convictions on extremism and insult, among other charges.

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