Tajik authorities recently detained journalists Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda (left) and Zavqibek Saidamini (right). (Photos from the journalists' YouTube channels)

Tajikistan authorities arrest 2 journalists who criticized other journalists’ detentions

New York, July 14, 2022 – Tajik authorities should immediately provide information on the whereabouts of journalist Zavqibek Saidamini and blogger Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda and ensure they are released from custody at once, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On the evening of July 8, plainclothes law enforcement officers in the capital, Dushanbe, detained Saidamini, according to multiple reports by U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi.

The officers took Saidamini to the Interior Ministry’s Department for Combatting Organized Crime (DCOC) in the nearby town of Vahdat, and the journalist has not been seen or heard from since, those reports said.

On July 9, DCOC officers in Vahdat summoned Pirmuhammadzoda in a follow-up from a previous session of questioning; he responded to their summons and also has not been seen since, according to reports by Radio Ozodi and the journalist’s brother, Abdukarim Pirmuhammadzoda, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app.

A DCOC officer told Pirmuhammadzoda’s family that he was placed under arrest for 10 days without telling them why, the journalist’s brother said, adding that the Dushanbe police denied that the journalist had been arrested.

Saidamini publishes commentary and reporting on his YouTube channels, which have a total of about 15,000 subscribers. His recent videos cover topics including border conflicts with Kyrgyzstan, religion, and allegations of unlawful military drafting practices.

Pirmuhammadzoda publishes his personal views on free speech and alleged government injustices on his YouTube channel, where he has about 39,000 subscribers.

Both Saidamini and Pirmuhammadzoda worked with journalists Daler Imomali and Avazmad Ghurbatov who were detained on June 15, and have published calls for their release, according to those news reports and CPJ’s review of their output.

“Tajik authorities’ failure to provide information on the whereabouts of Zavqibek Saidamini and Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda is wholly unacceptable and a further sign of their blatant disregard for the law while attempting to stifle discussion of inconvenient topics,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should immediately disclose Saidamini and Pirmuhammadzoda’s whereabouts and release them without delay.”

To the knowledge of their families, neither journalist has access to a lawyer, Radio Ozodi reported on July 12.

Saidamini worked as an editor and presenter at the state broadcaster Tajikistan Television until 2019, when he quit as he felt unable to report freely, Abdumalik Kadirov, secretary-general of the independent advocacy group Media Alliance of Tajikistan, told CPJ by messaging app.

Pirmuhammadzoda worked at the state-owned radio station Sadoi Dushanbe (Voice of Dushanbe) until 2019, when he quit after being given the choice between moderating his critical reporting and resigning, his brother said.

According to those reports by Radio Ozodi, security forces arrested Saidamini while he was at a car wash in Dushanbe with a friend. Authorities also detained and later released that friend, who was unable to provide information about Saidamini’s status because he had signed a nondisclosure agreement, those reports said.

DCOC officers previously summoned Pirmuhammadzoda to Vahdat for questioning on July 7, where they confiscated his phone, bank cards, and passport, according to Radio Ozodi and the journalist’s brother. Authorities searched the homes of Pirmuhammadzoda and his father, and then released the journalist from custody that evening, those sources said.

Pirmuhammadzoda was cited by Radio Ozodi in an article about that incident, in which he said he had signed a nondisclosure agreement and could not comment; after that article was published, DCOC officers summoned him again, asked why he spoke to the outlet, and then released him, the journalist’s brother said.

On July 9, officers summoned Pirmuhammadzoda again, saying they wanted to return his phone; the journalist has not been seen since, his brother said.

Amid their criticism of the arrest of Imomali and Ghurbatov, both Pirmuhammadzoda and Saidamini have reported a wave of abuse and threats from “fake” social media accounts, which Pirmuhammadzoda said he believes are run by the authorities.

CPJ emailed the Interior Ministry of Tajikistan for comment, but did not receive any reply.

Separately, exiled Tajik journalist Anora Sarkorova, whose family members authorities detained and interrogated last month over her reporting on rights abuses in Badakhshan, told CPJ that authorities informed her relatives that they were subject to an unofficial travel ban that would only be lifted if Sarkorova returned to Tajikistan for questioning.