December 8, 2011 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Tajik journalist spared punishment in partial court victory

Reporters Without Borders is relieved that the journalist Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov (Махмадюсуф Исмоилов) has been spared any penalty in the case brought against him over his investigation of alleged corruption by local officials, but calls again for a review of the verdict and full recognition of his innocence. The regional court in the northern province of Sughd yesterday upheld a decision by a lower court in the north-western city of Taboshar which found him guilty of defamation, insult and inciting hatred (see below). However, in view of a recent amnesty he was spared the penalties originally imposed by the lower court, consisting of a fine of 35,000 somoni (approximately 5,400 euros) and a ban on practising his profession for three years. “We are pleased that the pressure on Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov has at last eased to some extent, but we deplore once again the hypocrisy of the legal system in this matter,” the press freedom organization said. “As in the case of BBC journalist Urinboy Usmonov (see below), it is trying to save face. However, it must not be forgotten that the journalist spent 11 months in custody as a result of the investigation. We fully support the action of his lawyers who are preparing to appeal to a higher jurisdiction to seek the acknowledgment of their client’s innocence.” ----- 01.12.2011 - BBC correspondent’s conviction upheld on appeal despite pardon 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 (see below). 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 by another court, Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov (Махмадюсуф Исмоилов), a correspondent for the newspapers Nuri Zindagi and Istiklol who has also lodged an appeal, 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 (see below). Reporters Without Borders asks the provincial court to acknowledge his innocence as soon as possible. ----------- 14.10.2011 - Two journalists convicted but free men after trials Two journalists were free men today at the end of separate trials in the northwestern city of Khujand which Reporters Without Borders had been following closely, but both were convicted on charges directly related to their work. “We are relieved that the authorities have finally released Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov, who had been held in solitary confinement for nearly a year without a thought for his state of health,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But his sentence, like Urinboy Usmonov’s, is unacceptable. These two journalists have already paid too high a price for their independence. They should have been acquitted and even compensated. We fully support their decision to appeal to Tajikistan’s supreme court.” A correspondent for the newspapers Nuri Zindagi and Istiklol, Ismoilov had been detained since November 2010 in connection with his coverage of alleged corruption by local officials. He was acquitted of embezzlement but was sentenced to a fine of 35,000 somoni (5,400 euros) and a three-year ban on working as a journalist on charges of libel, insult and inciting hatred. Usmonov, a reporter for the BBC’s Uzbek-language service, was arrested for being in contact with the outlawed Islamist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir in June after covering the trials of several of its members at the BBC’s request. Detained and tortured for a month, he was released conditionally under international pressure. He was sentenced today to three years in prison but was granted an immediate “pardon.” “Pressure from media freedom organizations in Tajikistan and abroad have had an effect,” Reporters Without Borders added. “But the sentences passed on Ismoilov and Usmonov were harsh and were intended to intimidate all of Tajikistan’s journalists. The judicial system has just saved face. These hypocritical trials have failed to demonstrate its independence.” Tajikistan is ranked 115th out of 178 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Respect for media freedom is deteriorating rapidly amid an economic crisis and a government “war on terror.” ----- Read our previous press releases on these cases : - Provincial reporter held for past five weeks for covering corruption - BBC World Service reporter held in northwestern city - Worldwide call for BBC correspondent’s release - After being held for one month, BBC reporter must be freed without delay - Authorities free BBC correspondent but put him under judicial control - BBC correspondent tells court he was tortured while detained - President asked to intercede in detained journalist’s case - Prosecutor requests 14 years for reporter who criticized local officials