New York, July 29, 2003—Tajikistan’s Supreme Court today convicted two suspects in the murders of Muhiddin Olimpur, head of the BBC’s Persian Service bureau, and Viktor Nikulin, a correspondent with the Russian television network ORT, both of whom were killed during the country’s civil war in the mid-1990s.

Narzibek Davlatov and Akhtam Toirov were sentenced to 15 and 22 years in prison, respectively, for serving as accomplices in the slayings. The two men were arrested in October 2001, and their trial began in June 2003.

The convictions come a week after a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) delegation traveled to Tajikistan and called on the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the murders of dozens of journalists during the country’s 1992-1997 civil war.

In December 1995, Olimpur was found dead near the University of Tajikistan with a gunshot wound to the head. Months later, in March 1996, Nikulin was shot dead outside of ORT’s offices in the capital, Dushanbe.

The presiding judge in the case, Makhmadali Vatanov, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the murders were ordered by Nozim Yunusov, a field commander with the United Tajik Opposition who died during the civil war.

The man suspected of carrying out the killings, Nasrullo Sharipov, is serving a prison term in St. Petersburg, Russia, for an unrelated crime, according to Russian news reports. Russian authorities have rejected Tajikistan’s extradition request.

“We are pleased that Tajik authorities are finally taking steps to end impunity and bring to justice those responsible for murdering journalists during the civil war,” said CPJ deputy director Joel Simon. “We hope that this trend continues.”

CPJ delegation calls for an end to impunity
During a meeting with the CPJ delegation last week, Deputy State Prosecutor General Azizmat Imomov agreed to review a CPJ list of about two dozen journalists who were murdered during the war and promised to respond in writing within 30 days.

Journalists in Tajikistan who met with the delegation said the government’s failure to solve these cases continues to haunt the press and inhibits basic coverage of even mundane topics.

CPJ first visited Tajikistan in 1994 and found that both parties to the conflict—the People’s Front and the United Tajik Opposition—were targeting journalists in reprisal for their reporting. A peace treaty between the warring factions ended the war in 1997.