Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the release of Urinboy Usmonov, a reporter for the BBC’s Uzbek-language service in the northwestern province of Sughd, who has been held by the Tajik security services for exactly a month on suspicion of links to a banned Islamist group.
Prosecutor general Sherkhan Salimzad announced yesterday that the investigation has been completed and that the case been passed to the Sughd provincial prosecutor’s office.
“The fact that a ‘summary’ of the prosecution case has been sent to President Emomali Rakhmon suggests that all the appeals by journalists and the international community have been noted,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The justice system should nonetheless remain in charge of the case, and we hope that the completion of the investigation leads quickly to an impartial resolution that respects the rules of international law.
“As the investigation is now over, there is nothing to prevent this journalist’s conditional release. This should take place without delay. The justice system’s credibility would be greatly reinforced if all the judicial irregularities that have occurred since Usmonov’s arrest were also the subject of a serious investigation.”
Usmonov was arrested on 13 June because of his alleged links with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamist party that is outlawed in Tajikistan. He had been covering a trial of members of the party for the BBC.
Worldwide call for BBC correspondent’s release
Reporters Without Borders joined a renewed call by BBC staff worldwide today for the immediate and unconditional release of the BBC’s correspondent in Tajikistan, Urinboy Usmonov, who has been held since 13 June in the northwestern town of Kujand and said it was very concerned about his plight.
“The apparent dropping of the charge of belonging to an illegal political party, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, shows how very flimsy the accusations against him are,” the organisation said. “The authorities are now trying to save face. The new charges against him are groundless and also serious violations of media freedom.”
Usmonov’s lawyer, Faiziniso Vohidova, said the dropping of the charge indicated that the GNKB secret police did not have enough evidence. But he still faces accusations of not informing the authorities of his journalistic contacts with the party and of reporting its statements. Usmonov has all the official accreditation he needs to do his job. Vohidova noted that a journalist is “not obliged to tell the authorities of his investigations, which would violate the principle of the privacy of sources.” The only “evidence” against him were a few books and documents of the party found on his computer.
“As we said when he was arrested, having this material and the fact that he met two party members was part of his normal journalistic work of investigating the party, “ Reporters Without Borders said.
Vohidova and the head of the BBC’s central Asian service, Hamid Ismoilov, saw how physically and psychologically fragile he was when they visited him in prison. “Even if he has been allowed to see a doctor since he was switched to preventive detention, his state of health is worrying,” the lawyer said.
Usmonov, 59, has diabetes and heart problems and friends say he has been ill-treated. “We don’t know exactly what happened on the night he was arrested,” said Vohidova, who has only been allowed to meet him in the presence of the investigating judge. She said she was hoping to see him alone in the next few days.