Investigative journalists were targeted with retaliatory arrests and debilitating lawsuits, marking a decline in press freedom conditions. Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov, a reporter for the independent weekly Nuri Zindagi, was imprisoned for nearly a year on defamation charges related to stories on government corruption in the northern Sogd region. BBC correspondent Urinboy Usmonov spent a month in jail after security agents arrested him on extremism charges stemming from his reports on the banned Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The independent newspaper Asia Plus and reporter Ramziya Mirzobekova faced a civil lawsuit from a senior Interior Ministry official who accused them of spreading false information in a story about a man who died in government custody, press reports said. And a Dushanbe-based independent newspaper, Paykon, was forced to close after a state agency won a sizable judgment in a defamation case related to a letter alleging corruption. In September, President Emomali Rahmon ended the requirement that senior officials convene quarterly press conferences, diminishing already-limited access to leaders.
Defamation through mass media is a criminal offense carrying a potential prison penalty of two years. Insult, another criminal offense, also carries significant penalties.
Authorities imprisoned Ismoilov in November 2010 on politicized charges that included defamation and insult. The charges stemmed from an August 2010 article alleging government corruption, abuse of power, and mismanagement of funds. Nearly a year later, a Sogd regional court convicted Ismoilov and fined him 35,000 somoni (US$7,300). In December, an appeals court upheld the conviction but lifted the fine.
Timeline in the Ismoilov case:
August 19, 2010: Ismoilov’s article, “Asht is being destroyed,” was published by Nuri Zindagi.
November 19, 2010: Regional prosecutors initiated a criminal case against Ismoilov.
November 23, 2010: Ismoilov was arrested in northern Sogd region.
October 14, 2011: Ismoilov was convicted, fined, barred from working.
Tajikistan’s security service, known as the KNB, arrested Usmonov on charges of belonging to the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Unable to prove their charges, authorities amended them twice before releasing him on bail in July. On October 14, a Sogd regional court convicted Usmonov and sentenced him to three years in jail. The court, facing international outcry, immediately granted Usmonov amnesty and set him free the same day.
Timeline in the Usmonov case:
June 13, 2011: KNB agents arrested Usmonov and alleged that he belonged to Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
June 20: Usmonov was charged with making “public calls to overthrow Tajikistan’s constitutional regime,” his lawyer told regional reporters.
June 29: Authorities dropped the initial charges against Usmonov, according to press reports.
July 13: Prosecutors finished their inquiry against Usmonov, amending the charges again.
July 14: Usmonov was released on bail.
An interior ministry general sought damages equivalent to US$210,000 against reporter Mirzobekova concerning a December 2010 article alleging that a 30-year-old detainee had died from abuse in police custody. Facing an outcry, the plaintiff dropped the case in October 2011. But research by the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan shows government officials regularly target critical journalists with complaints seeking disproportionate damages.
Notable government lawsuits, according to the association:
5.5 million somoni (US$1.1 million) sought by three Dushanbe judges from the independent newspapers Farazh, Ozodagon, and Asia Plus. The judges objected to coverage about their performance, but they eventually dropped the case.
1 million somoni (US$210,500) sought by the Agency on Standardization, Metrology, and Certification from the independent newspaper Millat in January 2010. The paper had accused the agency of corruption.
600,000 somoni (US$126,000) sought by Judge Isrofil Bobochonov from the independent newspaper Krim-Info in October 2009. The lawsuit stemmed from a published letter in which a lawyer criticized the judge's handling of a case.
350,000 somoni (US$73,500) sought by a Dushanbe police officer from independent journalists Ramziya Mirzobekova (Asia Plus) and Saida Kurbanova (Farazh) in January 2008. The lawsuit stemmed from articles that said Dushanbe police had improperly detained a local reporter.
300,000 somoni (US$63,000) sought by the standardization agency from Paykon.
Marshals in Dushanbe raided Paykon and seized newsroom equipment in April, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. The seizure represented fulfillment of a 2009 court verdict that ordered Paykon to pay 300,000 somoni to the Agency on Standardization, Metrology, and Certification, also known as Tajikstandart. A month after the raid, the newspaper was forced to close.
Timeline in the Paykon case:
July 2009: Paykon published a letter from a local businessman who accused the agency of corruption.
October 2009: A district court in Dushanbe ordered Paykon to pay 300,000 somoni in damages to Tajikstandart.
January 2010: An appeals court upheld the verdict against Paykon.
April 2011: Marshals raided Paykon offices, confiscated equipment.