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BBC Journalist tortured, right to work and inform violated

Written by on Saturday, 3 September 2011
Media and Internet, Politics and Society, Tajikistan
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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.”

The Associated Press reported that Fayzinisso Vokhidova, Usmonov’s lawyer, said the journalist avoided:

“talking about the alleged torture earlier for fear of worsening the mistreatment.”

On August 16th, during Usmonov’s prime days of trial, Central Asian Newswire said:

“Interior Minister Abdurahim Qahharov last month said that senior police will be dismissed if the reporter is found to be not guilty.”

But considering ASIA-Plus’s reporting of lawyer Vokhidova saying that Judge Shodikhon Nazarov “did not react to his [Usmonov] statement [about being tortured]”, one could troublesomely wonder if Qahharov’s statement will actually suffice. After all, if the Judge ignored his plea, then will the police do the same? Again – undoubtedly – let’s sure hope not!

But then again, on August 26th, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said Usmonov’s lawyers quoted Khurshed Ghiyosov, head of the State Committee for National Security investigations department in Sughd Province:

“… Usmonov should have been provided with a lawyer immediately after his arrest, and a search of his home was not legal.”

So there is some reassurance, seeing as how the authorities are slowly-but-surely alluding to their wrong doings.

On August 24th, in a public statement, Amnesty International said:

“To the organization’s knowledge, no investigation has yet been carried out into allegations that he was tortured and ill-treated in pre-trial detention. The judge has reportedly yet to inquire into how he and his four co-defendants have been treated in pre-trial detention.”

Amnesty International continues:

“Amnesty International believes that Urunboy Usmonov, who worked for the BBC Central Asian service for 10 years, was targeted to punish him for his journalistic work and for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.”

English Pen posted a sample letter of protest online, “calling for the trumped up charges against Usmonov to be dropped immediately [and] condemning the reported torture of Usmonov and asking the authorities to investigate these claims”, to be sent to the Tajikistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The group calls upon the international community to add their own comments and join their cause. Some of the letter reads:

“Furthermore, I was troubled to learn that, when questioned during his trial last week, Mr Usmonov told the court that he had been tortured whilst in custody. Mr Usmonov claims to have been subjected to beatings following his arrest, and stated that security officers had burned his arms with cigarettes. He also claims to have been forced to sign a confession which had been dictated to him, pledging to remain in Tajikistan to face the charges. I am deeply concerned by these reports of torture, and call upon the authorities to investigate these claims as a matter of urgency and to bring those responsible to justice.”

But there is also another perspective on this case, in addition to the right to speak and inform.

When basic rights are stripped from journalists – thought it is overwhelmingly about Freedom of Expression, Speech and Press – it is also very much about violations against the basic international Right To Work.

Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – created by the United Nations, to which Tajikistan is a member state – says:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Usmonov is a seasoned BBC journalist who was simply doing his job and informing the public by covering stories about Hizb ut-Tahrir, not agreeing or disagreeing, not forming personal opinions or affiliations with the group. To be tortured and violated in the ways in which he was, very unjustly takes away his ability to care for himself and his family and their livelihoods through his chosen path of successful employment, which just happens to be one the Tajik authorities are in most fear of.

All in all – neweurasia stands united in calling for an immediate end to all of Usmonov’s trumped Hizb ut-Tahrir affiliation accusations – for allowing the talented journalist to work and to do so freely and without restriction, especially void of unjust torture and mistreatment of any sort.

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