Jailed journalist finally freed after bureaucratic obstruction

New York, December 16, 2005—A Tajik journalist ordered released last month by the Supreme Court was finally freed today, a move welcomed by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Jumaboy Tolibov left a detention center in the town of Istarafshan in the northern region of Sogd, according to a local CPJ legal source and the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT), a press freedom group based in the capital Dushanbe. Tolibov was jailed in April 2005 after criticizing a local prosecutor in three newspaper articles in 2004.

The Supreme Court ordered Tolibov’s release on October 11 but the Prosecutor General’s Office in Dushanbe appealed that ruling. When the Supreme Court upheld the release order on November 28, authorities in the Istarafshan detention center said they would not implement the ruling until they had received an official copy of the order in the regular mail.

“It is scandalous that a journalist should have remained behind bars in flagrant disregard of a ruling by Tajikistan’s highest court while his jailers waited for the country’s unreliable mail system to deliver his release papers,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We are relieved that Jumaboy Tolibov has at last been released but we call on the Tajik authorities to refrain from jailing journalists for their work in the future.”

The release came four days after Tolibov was visited by Alain Couanon, the senior representative in Tajikistan for the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a pan-European human right monitoring body. Couanon expressed “concern” about Tolibov’s ongoing detention on December 12 and called on authorities to “accelerate the process of releasing the journalist,” the OSCE said.

Under the Tajik Code of Criminal Procedure the Prosecutor General’s Office can suspend the implementation of a Supreme Court decision by filing an appeal, which it did after the October ruling. On November 28, the nine-member bench of the Supreme Court rejected that appeal and ordered Tolibov’s release, NANSMIT reported.

Tolibov was arrested on April 24 in Dushanbe at the direction of Ayni district prosecutor Sabit Azamov. Tolibov, who is also chairman of the legal department in Ayni’s local government, wrote commentaries in the ruling party newspaper Minbar i Halq and the parliamentary newspaper Sadoi Mardum criticizing the prosecutor’s office. On October 11, the Supreme Court reduced Tolibov’s punishment from two years in prison to one year of corrective labor and ordered his release after accepting the six months imprisonment already served as the equivalent of a year of corrective labor.