In Russia, unknown attacker stabs exiled Tajik journalist

New York, January 13, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Thursday’s attack in Moscow on Dododzhon Atovulloyev, exiled publisher and editor-in-chief of the Tajik pro-opposition newspaper Charogi Ruz.

On Thursday evening, Atovulloyev, 56, was at a restaurant in Moscow when an unidentified man approached him, stabbed him twice in the stomach, and fled, witnesses told the local press. Atovulloyev underwent surgery, and, according to his doctors, his life is no longer in danger, news reports said.

Charogi Ruz (Daylight) is known for its sharp criticism of the Tajik government, particularly of Emomali Rahmon, the head of state since 1992. Atovulloyev has repeatedly criticized the Tajik ruling elite of corruption and embezzlement of international aid aimed at helping the development of the poor Central Asia state. When Atovulloyev’s newspaper was banned in Tajikistan in 1992 in retaliation for his criticism of Rahmon’s policies, he moved it to Moscow a year later. He continued to publish Charogi Ruz from exile. The paper’s website can still be accessed online in Tajikistan, local news reports said.

“We call on Russian investigators to carry out a thorough investigation into the attack against Dododzhon Atovulloyev, guarantee his safety during recovery, and bring the perpetrators to justice,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Atovulloyev is a vocal and embattled journalist who has been at odds with Tajik authorities because of his work. His journalistic activities must be considered as a motive for the attack.”

Russian authorities announced today that they had detained a suspect–a man of Tajik nationality who matched the description of witnesses at the scene–but later released him, the regional online news agency Fergana News reported.

Atovulloyev, who is also a prominent opposition activist, heads the opposition movement “Vatandor” (Patriot), which unites Tajik opposition activists living abroad.

In April 2001, Tajik officials charged Atovulloyev with “insulting the president,” “supporting the violent removal of the constitutional order” of Tajikistan, and inciting “ethnic, racial, and religious hatred,” CPJ research shows. The Tajik government asked Russian authorities to extradite Atovulloyev, but the Russian government, amid an international outcry, refused, according to news reports.

In September 2008, Tajikistan issued an arrest warrant for Atovulloyev on similar charges that carried up to 15 years in prison if convicted, and a state prosecutor declared the journalist an “information terrorist,” CPJ research shows.

Friends and supporters of Atovulloyev told the Russian service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that they intended to stand around-the-clock guard at the hospital where the journalist was recovering so they could protect him.