Editor’s note: Good news — sort of. Muhammad Yusuf Ismailov and Urunboy Usmonov have been found guilty, but with very commuted sentences. neweurasia’s Alpharabius reports. “The international community has succeeded in bringing sufficient pressure onto the situation to make the Tajik authorities rectify themselves,” he writes, “[But] in the end, this two-faced/face-saving sentencing just demonstrates further the weakness of the Tajik justice system.”
Two different trials against Tajik journalists Muhammad Yusuf Ismailov and Urunboy Usmonov have resulted in strikingly similar sentences: both were found guilty, but not to the extent that the prosecutors had wanted. The result? The Nuri Zindagi correspondent, Ismailov, was fined 35,000 somoni (~7,200 USD), and the BBC reporter, Usmonov, was formally sentenced to three years in prison, only to have that immediately commuted by the recent amnesty.
To review, Ismailov was accused of slander and blackmail, punishable up to 16 years in prison, while Usmonov was accused of religious extremism faced up to five years. Prosecutors frequently failed to provide evidence sufficient or proportional to their desired indictments, and chargers were dropped literally one after another during trials. Ismailov was charged of inciting ethnic tensions, but the prosecutors could neither define the term nor provide evidence; the accusation of slander was similarly weak. without clear endorsement. The only allegation that stuck in any sense was that of insulting officials, as the State Language Committee was of the opinion that the tone of his articles were derisive. Nevertheless, this same Committee — which is by no means independent, by the way — said that he did not deserve such a steep sentence, and anyway, the constitution protects freedom of speech. Meanwhile, Usmonov originally was accused of being a member of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir movement, whose own members denied this. The prosecutors ultimately attempted to charge him for failing to inform authorities about the movement, but in fact, according to Tajik law a journalist has the right to keep his sources anonymous.
The Tajik National Association of Independent Media (NANSMIT) deemed Ismailov’s trial an act of “political revenge” launched by the local authorities who were the subject of criticism in his articles. The accusation against Usmonov was just gibberish in the eyes of everyone who knows him well. The Committee to protect Journalists (CPJ) has said,
“Both journalists are being punished for nothing other than their independent reporting on issues of public interest. Usmonov is charged with extremism, while Ismoilov faces defamation, insult and extortion charges. All charges have been fabricated, CPJ research shows.”
The international community has succeeded in bringing sufficient pressure onto the situation to make the Tajik authorities rectify themselves. Besides the CPJ and NewEurasia, there was of course RFE/RL and VOA, the BBC added its noteworthy might to Usmonov’s cause in particular, and the OSCE representative on freedom of press, Dunya Miyatovic, openly accused Tajik authorities of not responding to her letters about the cases. Supporters also formed groups on Facebook defending the reporters.
How should we assess the sentences? On the one hand, the Tajik authorities clearly realised that they were going to be in for a public relations whipping had they decided to push forward with the harsher sentences, and they calculated that they were not up for suffering the lashes. On the other hand, they needed to save face to their own power-bases. The journalists already suffered trial, and even if their sentences have been reduced, their reputations have been harmed among many of the Tajik readership who simply don’t know the subtleties of the cases. So, in the end, this two-faced/face-saving sentencing just demonstrates further the weakness of the Tajik justice system.
Incidentally, there’s a call from among some of my colleagues that Ismailov and Usmonov should launch lawsuits against their accusers. If this happens, the tables could very well turn, and perhaps the Tajik justice will finally muster the courage to exert its independence and bring about real rule of law in the country…
Editor’s note: The trial of Nuri Zindagi reporter Mahmadyusuf Ismoilov has been momentarily adjourned due to “sickness” on the part of a judicial aide — although a friend of neweurasia’s Alpharabius caught the aide shopping. Were that not enough, prosecutors have opened a case against Ismoilov’s lawyer. Is this Tajik justice?
The trial of Mahmadyusuf Ismoilov, a regional reporter for the Dushanbe-based independent weekly Nuri Zindagi whom I blogged about this past weekend, was adjourned yesterday until October 29.
The apparent reason was that one of the judicial aids to judge Saodat Aliva became sick. However, an acquaintance of mine has said that she met the aid in the local market yesterday and the individual seemed healthy — certainly healthy enough to go shopping. (My acquaintance tried to take a photo of the aide using a mobile phone, which resulted in a small confrontation between them…)
Calling out sick at a key moment in a sensitive judicial process is a widespread trick here in Tajikistan, as our judges often resort to it when they do not feel that they have a clear signal from “above” about how to proceed.
Editor: The BBC’s Urunboy Usmonov is not the only journalist in Tajikistan in trouble with political authorities: local reporter Muhammad Yusuf Ismailov (Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov) is facing 16 years in prison for reporting about corruption. neweurasia’s Alpharabius warns that Ismailov’s international obscurity makes him a softer target than Usmonov — and his case more dangerous for independent media in Tajikistan.
The news has been chocking: prosecutors have demanded a 16-year jail term for a journalist just because he wrote the truth about social problems and corrupt authorities. They accuse him of “inciting ethnic tensions”, “insulting officials”, and “extortion”. The next court hearing is scheduled for this Monday, October 3. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, if convicted, Ismailov will be the first journalist to suffer this in Tajikistan in a decade.
Muhammad Yusuf Ismailov (Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov) was arrested in November 2010 after publishing a story earlier that summer in the now-defunct Dushanbe weekly Nuri Zindagi about widespread abuses by local authorities in the Asht district of northern Tajikistan [Ed.: Alpharabius has provided us pdf copies of the article in question which you can download at the bottom of this post]. It was very good, fact-based investigative reporting.
Today, Ismailov, 51 years old, ill and physically disabled, has been in jail for more than 10 months. There was some hope that he might have been released when the government issued the recent amnesty to commemorate 20 years of Tajikistan’s independence, but this failed to happen (instead, I’m told that prosecutors had offered to reduce the sentence they are seeking from 16 years to 14 — how “kind” of them!)
The crux of the case against Ismailov are two sets of testimony: one from 12 state employees of the Asht district government, the other from the Tajikistan Language Committee. According to Nuri Zindagi’s chief editor, Dzhuma Mirzo, several witnesses have changed their testimony in favor of the defendant. Meanwhile, the Committee argues that perhaps the Ismailov crossed the line and should be held accountable for inflammatory and extortive rhetoric. In my view, this argument is simply not true. Let’s look at this point by point.
All too often we hear of journalists threatened, injured or – in worst case scenarios – even killed, for the work they do. Getting up, dusting themselves off – cut and bruised – they bravely fight for a free press, believing in the informative word above all. The recent story of a Tajik journalist’s will and want to forgive his attackers – thought it came out the attack was not targeted at his media work – still sets a great hypothetical and everyday example of how often times the work of journalists is to unite us by keeping us informed, at the end of the day, not to divide us – even in the most troublesome and difficult of situations and circumstances.
On August 31st, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service reported that Khurshed Atovullo (Niyozov), journalist and editor of the independent Tajik weekly “Farazh“, was attacked on his way to an Eid al-Fitr celebration.
Absolutely not in the spirit of Holy Ramadan – he, his brother and brother-on-law were attacked by men armed with clubs. While on their way to a friend’s house in Tajikistan’s capital city Dushanbe, their car was blockaded, and the men forced out. It turned out the attackers were teenagers, who were immediately tracked down by police, after the Tajik journalist and editor called in their license plate number to the authorities.
Read the full story »
Before, it was Kyrgyzstan, now it is Tajikistan:
Today I had a chat with a friend of mine and she informed me that the authorities had told her 22-year-old relative that he cannot continue his studies in Tajikistan, otherwise his diploma will not be acknowledged by the Turkmen authorities.
At first I was surprised — are our students banned from Tajikistan of all places?! So, I did some asking around and also checked RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service (their story in Turkmen here). Actually, the surprise didn’t go away, but it was joined by anger.
Just as neweurasia regretted to learn that Urumboy Usmonov “still may face unjust criminal prosecution” – we again regret to learn that he was mistreated while in detention.
BBC‘s Central Asian Service, 10 year long Tajik journalist was arrested on June 13th and held in northern Tajikistan for suspicion membership in the Islamic Movement Hizb ut-Tahrir. The journalist was released on bail on July 14th. For more information, see: “Alleged religious association lands a BBC journalist in Tajik detention” and subsequent neweurasia pages.
In terms of physical torture, Usmonov was reportedly beaten and burnt with cigarettes while being held by authorities. Journalism.co.uk informs that Usmonov:
“…told a court that he was tortured and forced to sign a confession during his time in detention.”
“talking about the alleged torture earlier for fear of worsening the mistreatment.”
I’ve been thinking over Tajikistan’s recent prohibition on minors from going to mosques, churches and synagogues, reported last week by neweurasia‘s Avicenna, within the larger context of the country’s on-going “cultural revolution”.
Some of the revolution’s features are rather notorious, from Tajikifying surnames by dropping the Russian “-ov” suffix to banning witchcraft to policing ostentatious displays of wealth at wedding parties. Many Western and Western-influenced observers have derided these things as silly.
This time around, they’re sure to fix on the obvious violation of a universal human right to freedom of conscious. And although they are right to do so, I wonder whether they will be missing a key point: this is actually an attack on how culture, especially so informed by religion, is developed, and it’s being done for the sake of cementing personal power.
The Academic Committee of European Council on International Relations decided to award one of this year’s highest European cultural and political distinctions — Leader of XXI Century award — to Tajik President Emamoli Rahmon, reports the European Council on International Relations website.
Barely known for its activities, the European Council on International Relations informs that the Leader of XXI Century Award (also known as Leader of XXI Century International Award) has been one of the prizes awarded by the European Council on International Relation since 1998. The website claims that the prize was considered by international experts as being more influential than the Nobel Prize for Peace.
“This title is seldom awarded and only after a very carefully examination, as the receivers are leaders of the century, there work all thou concentrated in a year is reflecting decades of actions and achievements with positive influence over peoples and countries.”
– Dr. Anton Caragea, President of European Council on International Relations
While joyfully reporting that BBC’s Tajik journalist Urunboy Usmonov was released from custody last month – “The BBC’s Usmonov is released!” – neweurasia now anxiously learns that he is still facing unjust criminal prosecution.
Check out neweurasia’s “Alleged religious association lands a BBC journalist in Tajik detention” for a thorough look into Usmonov’s case.
On August 15th, BBC reported:
“Usmanov has received notice on Monday that he must appear in court in Khujand – hometown of the journalist in northern Tajikistan.”
On August 16th, BBC informed:
“He has repeatedly denied the charges, saying his only contact with the group was to interview some members as part of his work reporting on the region.”
In the beginning of August, President Emomali Rahmon signed into law a bill “On the responsibility of parents for their children’s upbringing and education.”
The bill that bans minors from attending religious places of worship, was initiated by the President in December, 2010, has already become effective since it’s publication by the official mass media.
As neweurasia reported earlier, Article 8, one of the most contradictory points of the bill, lists parents’ responsibilities. Starting from the moment the bill entered into force, parents:
“must not allow children’s particiption in religious organizations’ activities, excluding children officially studying in religious establishments.”