New York, June 26, 2002—Tajikistan’s Prosecutor General’s Office has dropped its criminal case against Dodojon Atovullo, editor and publisher of the Russian-language paper Chroghi Ruz. Authorities have been searching for Atovullo since May 2001, when he fled in exile to Germany.
According to a June 21 report from Interfax news agency, First Deputy Prosecutor General Azizmamad Imomov confirmed that the case against Atovullo had been thrown out and that the search for him has ended.
While welcoming the move, Atovullo told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he is wary of returning to Tajikistan. “The authorities may allow me to go back, but only in return for my silence,” he said.
Chroghi Ruz, which is published in Moscow and distributed throughout Central Asia, is an influential opposition newspaper.
In the aftermath of Tajikistan’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian-backed government fought a civil war with the Islamic opposition for control of the country. During the struggle, which lasted five years, Atovullo was accused of attempting to overthrow the state as a result of critical reporting in his newspaper.
A peace agreement signed in June 1997 and an amnesty law passed two months later dismissed all legal cases against the state.
The Prosecutor General’s Office, however, revived this and other charges against Atovullo in April 2001, accusing him of insulting President Imomali Rakhmonov, supporting the violent removal of the constitutional order, and inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred.
In July 2001, Atovullo was detained in a Moscow airport and held by Russian authorities while traveling from Germany to Uzbekistan. He was held for six days while Russian authorities considered an extradition request from the Tajik government. Atovullo was eventually released and returned to Germany.
On April 19, 2002, CPJ deputy director Joel Simon and Europe and Central Asia program coordinator Alex Lupis met with Tajik foreign minister Talbak Nazarov and Rashid Alimov, Tajikistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, in New York City to discuss Tajikistan’s press freedom record and to protest the government’s persecution of Atovullo.
Simon and Lupis argued that the government’s case against Atovullo was a politically motivated retaliation for his criticism of government officials and that such action stifled press freedom in Tajikistan by fostering fear and self-censorship among other journalists.