Exiled Tajik journalist Mirzo Salimpur's relatives were recently harassed by authorities about his work. (Photo: Iskandar Aliev)

Tajikistan authorities question family members of exiled journalist

On July 3, 2020, the Tajikistan prosecutor general’s office in Dushanbe, the capital, summoned two relatives of exiled journalist Mirzo Salimpur and questioned them about their relationship with him, according to news reports and Salimpur, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.

Salimpur said he believes his relatives were interrogated in an attempt to pressure him in the run-up to the country’s presidential elections, set for later this year. Salimpur is the founder and chief editor of the Prague-based independent news website Akhbor, which has recently published critical reporting on alleged corruption among Tajik officials and on the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

On July 3, a man who identified himself as an official with the prosecutor general’s office, but did not give his name, went to the homes of Salimpur’s two brothers in the town of Hisor, west of Dushanbe, the journalist told CPJ.

The brothers were not home, and the official told each of their wives to go to the prosecutor general’s office in Dushanbe and speak with Mansur Ghanizoda, an investigator, which they did later that day, Salimpur said. The official did not tell the women why they were summoned, only saying that they would be asked some questions, the journalist told CPJ.

Salimpur asked CPJ not to disclose the names of his sisters-in-law for security reasons.     

At that office, Ghanizoda and an official who did not disclose their name questioned Salimpur’s sisters-in-law separately for several hours, asking for detailed information about the journalist’s other relatives, including his sisters and daughter, Salimpur said.

The interrogators demanded that the women cut all their ties with Salimpur and stop receiving any money from him, because he is a journalist who was “working against the state,” Salimpur told CPJ, and also denied that he had sent the women money.

The interrogators released the women without charge after the interrogations, which lasted from the morning until afternoon, Salimpur said.

CPJ called Ghanizoda for comment, but he did not answer. When U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service called Ghanizoda, he answered but declined to comment, according to a report by the outlet.

Salimpur said that his sisters-in-law felt intimidated and threatened by the interrogations, and he expressed concern that this might be the beginning of the state’s campaign against his relatives who still live in Tajikistan.

On July 5, Salimpur published an open letter addressed to the president’s chief of staff, Ozoda Rahmon, and the assistant to the president on issues of social development and public relations, Abdujabbor Rahmonzoda, in which he demanded the state to stop exerting pressure upon his family and interrogating his relatives, calling the methods “barbarian” and “illegal.”

In April 2020, the Tajik Supreme Court blocked access to Akhbor and prohibited the outlet from operating in the country, as CPJ documented at the time.

CPJ filed a request for comment on the official website of the prosecutor general’s office, but did not receive any response.

[Editors’ note: This article has been changed in its eleventh paragraph to correct the addressee of Salimpur’s letter.]