Stockholm, August 11, 2022 – Tajikistan authorities should release journalists Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva and Khushruz Jumayev, drop any charges against them, and stop prosecuting journalists in secret, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On May 18, officers with the State Committee of National Security (SCNS) arrested Mamadshoeva, a freelance journalist and human rights activist, from her home in the capital, Dushanbe, according to news reports. The following day, officers with the Interior Ministry’s Department for Combatting Organized Crime (DCOC) in Dushanbe arrested Jumayev, an independent journalist and blogger who runs the culture and current affairs website Pomere.info and uses the pen name Khushom Gulyam, according to news reports.
On July 15, a representative of the prosecutor general of Tajikistan stated at a press conference that a case had been opened against Mamadshoeva for leading “part of a criminal group” in the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, an offense subject to between 15 and 20 years in prison under Article 187 Part 1 of the criminal code of Tajikistan, but said investigations into the journalist’s actions continue.
Their arrests came as Tajikistan authorities launched an “anti-terrorism operation” to quell protests in the ethnically and religiously distinct Gorno-Badakhshan, home to many members of the Pamiri minority to which both journalists belong, according to news reports. Authorities have sought to suppress independent reporting on the protests and the government operation, as CPJ has documented.
As of August 11, authorities had not made any public statements on the reasons for Jumayev’s arrest, several local journalists told CPJ on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal. News reports have stated that authorities opened a case against him for allegedly making public calls to overthrow the constitutional order, subject to between eight and 15 years in prison under Article 307 Part 2 of the criminal code.
Sources familiar with both cases told CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal that authorities classified the cases against both journalists as secret and made their lawyers sign nondisclosure agreements, so neither the media nor the journalists’ families have received reliable information about any charges against them. Closed trials for both journalists are expected to begin in the coming days, those sources said. CPJ could not independently verify the date of the trials.
“Tajikistan authorities must release Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva and Khushruz Jumayev, drop any charges against them, and lift the veil of secrecy in their cases,” said CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg, in New York. “Pamiri journalists, and all journalists in Tajikistan, must be free to do their jobs amid government actions in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region.”
Mamadshoeva and Jumayev have collaborated on several local cultural, linguistic, and media projects in Gorno-Badakhshan and have written about the social and political conditions in the region on several media platforms, the local journalists told CPJ.
On May 17, the Interior Ministry of Tajikistan published a statement accusing Mamadshoeva and two influential Pamiri figures of organizing an “illegal demonstration” in Khorog, the region’s capital, the previous day. In comments to independent regional news website Fergana later that day, Mamadshoeva described the accusation as “utterly absurd.”
On May 24, Tajik state television broadcast a film entitled “Failure of the Conspiracy” (“Shikasti Fitna”), produced by a state-owned film company, in which Mamadshoeva and her detained ex-husband Kholbash Kholbashov admit to organizing unrest in the Gorno-Badakhshan together with local leaders. The film includes various accusations that Mamadshoeva received foreign funding to undermine the state, according to CPJ’s review of the film.
The local journalists who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity said they believe the confession was made under duress.
On the morning of May 19, a man in plainclothes who introduced himself as an electrician knocked at the door of Jumayev’s apartment asking for help; when Jumayev opened his door, several law enforcement officers burst into the apartment, twisted his arms and forced him outside into a waiting vehicle, according to the source familiar with Jumayev’s case. Jumayev’s parents searched for him at various government offices for five days before authorities called them to say he was in detention at DCOC headquarters, that source said.
A court remanded Jumayev in custody for two months pending investigation on May 23, the source said. CPJ was unable to determine if the remand was officially extended.
A friend of Jumayev told CPJ on condition of anonymity that the journalist told him following Mamadshoeva’s arrest that he feared detention but that he had not done anything unlawful.
CPJ emailed the Office of the Prosecutor General and the Interior Ministry of Tajikistan about the journalists’ cases but did not receive any replies.
Mamadshoeva and Jumayev are among at least six journalists currently under investigation by Tajik authorities for major criminal offenses, as CPJ has documented.