Stockholm, July 21, 2022 – Tajikistan authorities should drop criminal extremism and all other investigations into journalists Avazmad Ghurbatov, Zavqibek Saidamini, and Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda and release them and journalist Daler Imomali immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
“The ongoing detentions and extremism investigations into four journalists known for their coverage of social injustices and their sharp criticism of authorities are dubious, to say the least, and raise fears of a new wave of repression against Tajikistan’s embattled press,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Tajik authorities should release Avazmad Ghurbatov, Daler Imomali, Zavqibek Saidamini, and Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda at once, drop all investigations into them, and stop harassing journalists whose only crime is to report on sensitive topics.”
On June 15, police arrested Imomali, an independent journalist who covers social issues on his YouTube channel, which has nearly 150,000 subscribers, for participating in banned extremist organizations, failure to pay taxes, and making a false accusation of a crime, and separately arrested Ghurbatov, a freelance video reporter and camera operator who works for Imomali, for allegedly assaulting a police officer, as CPJ documented at the time.
Saidamini, an independent journalist, and Pirmuhammadzoda, an independent blogger, collaborated with Imomali and called for his and Ghurbatov’s release, and went missing and were presumed detained on July 8 and 9, respectively, as documented by CPJ.
On July 15, a spokesperson for Tajikistan’s prosecutor-general confirmed that Saidamini was being held in the town of Vahdat, outside the capital, Dushanbe, and said the journalist was under investigation for participation in extremist organizations, according to news reports. The spokesperson said Saidamini is accused of participation in the political organizations Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and Group 24, both banned as extremist by Tajikistan’s Supreme Court.
That spokesperson said Pirmuhammadzoda was sentenced to 10 days’ detention for disobeying police orders on July 9, those reports stated. The journalist’s brother, Abdukarim Pirmuhammadzoda, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app, told CPJ that he was not released after 10 days.
On July 19, Shodi Hafizzoda, the head of the Interior Ministry’s Department for Combating Organized Crime (DCOC), announced an investigation into Pirmuhammadzoda for making “public calls for extremist activities or justifying extremism,” and said that prosecutors are investigating Ghurbatov for “membership” in IRPT, local media reports stated.
Participation in extremist organizations carries a five to eight year prison sentence under Article 307(3).2 of the criminal code; calling for extremist activities or justifying extremism online or in the media carries a five to 10 year prison sentence under Article 307(1). A local expert who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation told CPJ that any charges filed against Ghurbatov for alleged membership in IRPT would likely be charged under Article 307(3).2.
Imomali and Saidamini have previously repeatedly denied belonging to any parties or groups, according to those reports. Pirmuhammadzoda’s relatives reject the accusation against him, according to those reports and Abdukarim Pirmuhammadzoda.
IRPT representatives have denied Ghurbatov has any links to the party, and Group 24 has denied collaboration with Saidamini, according to a report by U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, known locally as Radio Ozodi, and a Group 24 statement.
CPJ was unable to independently confirm whether any of the journalists denied the current extremism accusations, or whether any have been formally charged.
Saidamini and Pirmuhammadzoda’s relatives did not know the journalists’ whereabouts until the July 15 press conference, reports stated. Pirmuhammadzoda’s brother told CPJ that the journalist’s family has not had contact with him since July 9, does not know if he has access to a lawyer, and found out about the accusations against him via media reports. A lawyer hired by Pirmuhammadzoda’s family was being denied access to the journalist as of July 21, his brother said.
CPJ called and emailed the Prosecutor-General’s Office and called Ghurbatov and Imomali’s lawyer for comment but did not receive a response. The lawyer has reportedly signed a nondisclosure agreement with authorities, as CPJ documented.