New York, February 6, 2020 — Tajikistan authorities should immediately release journalist Daler Sharifov, drop all charges against him, and allow him to work unobstructed, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police in Dushanbe, the capital, raided Sharifov’s home on January 28 and confiscated a computer and several books, according to a report by the independent regional news website Fergana. Later that day, authorities summoned him to a local police station and detained him for questioning, according to that report.
Sharifov is an independent reporter who often writes about the lives of Muslims in Tajikistan, according to Saymuddin Dustov, an exiled Tajik journalist and chair of the European Congress of Tajik Journalists and Bloggers, a freedom of expression group, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
On January 30, Sharifov’s family learned that the Tajik state security agency, the State Committee of National Security, was holding the journalist in pretrial detention, according to Dustov, who is a friend of Sharifov’s and who has been following the case.
The Tajik prosecutor-general’s office issued a statement on February 1 announcing that Sharifov had been charged with inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred. The charges stemmed from “more than 200 articles and commentaries containing extremist content” he published between 2013 and 2019, according to that statement. The announcement did not specify which articles allegedly contained such content.
Tajikistan is set to hold parliamentary elections on March 1, according to news reports.
“Tajikistan authorities should immediately drop the absurd charges against independent journalist Daler Sharifov, release him from custody, and allow him to continue his reporting,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Tajik officials have already driven nearly all independent voices out of the country, so this prosecution is a clear attempt to silence ahead of elections one of the few media critics that remain.”
Sharifov could be jailed for up to five years if found guilty, according to Tajikistan’s criminal code. The journalist’s father, Abdumannon Sharifov, denied the charges and said they were retaliation for his son’s writing, according to Fergana.
Dustov told CPJ that a judge filed the charges against Sharifov on January 30 and ordered the journalist to be held for two months pending trial. Sharifov’s lawyer, Abdurakhmon Sharipov, was able to see the journalist only after he was charged and after signing a non-disclosure agreement on the case, Dustov said.
From 2013 to 2019, Sharifov worked for the independent news website Ozodagon, which closed in 2019 “after years of harassment and intimidation,” according to regional news website Eurasianet. He also contributed to the now-defunct news website Rushnoi.tj and the Tajik service of the U.S.-Congress funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, according to news reports and an article with his byline on RFE/RL’s website.
The Tajik prosecutor-general’s office did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
In May 2012, unidentified assailants brutally beat Sharifov, who then worked for the state TV channel Safina, according to CPJ research.