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BBC correspondent's conviction upheld on appeal despite pardon

(RSF/IFEX) – 1 December 2011 – Reporters Without Borders deplores yesterday's decision by the Tajikistan Supreme Court to uphold the conviction of the BBC journalist Urinboy Usmonov (Урунбой Усмонов) for contacts with a banned Islamist organization.

"By persisting in this absurd verdict, the legal system has once again proved its lack of impartiality," the press freedom organization said.

"The main effect of this decision is to intimidate journalists who hope to cover the activities of Hizb-ut Tahrir and the anti-religious activities of the Tajik government.

"However, they will not get rid of the problem by imposing a black-out. We urge the judicial authorities to take this final opportunity to acknowledge the innocence of the BBC correspondent and to allow the press to do its work."

The Supreme Court confirmed a three-year sentence imposed on Usmonov by a lower court on 14 October for having contacts with the Islamist party Hizb-ut Tahrir. He was immediately pardoned and released after his case led to international protests and he decided to appeal against his conviction.

He had been covering the trials of Hizb-ut Tahrir members at the request of his editors.

His lawyer, Fayziniso Vohidova, told Reporters Without Borders further recourse might still be available at home.

"As soon as we receive (yesterday's) decision, we shall lodge an appeal with the presidium of the Supreme Court. This is composed of the highest judicial authorities, such as the president of the court and the attorney general. It has oversight powers which can be used to overturn the verdicts of Supreme Court bench.

"However, that can take time since there is no legal deadline specified. If the presidium again upholds the conviction, we are resolved to take the case to international law."

Another journalist convicted at the same time, Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov (Махмадюсуф Исмоилов), a correspondent for the newspapers Nuri Zindagi and Istiklol who has also appealed to the Supreme Court, has been remanded in custody for almost a year because of his investigations into corruption among local officials.

He was released on 14 October, but was fined 35,000 somoni (5,400 euros) and banned from practising his profession for three years on charges of libel, insult and inciting hatred.

Reporters Without Borders asks the Supreme Court to acknowledge his innocence as soon as possible.

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