Jailed Tajik journalist Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda describes severe physical abuse, forced confession in letter

Radio Ozodi published a letter on October 21, 2022, written by jailed Tajik journalist Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda alleging police officers beat, electrocuted, and forced him to record a false confession video. (Photo Credit: YouTube/Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda)

Stockholm, October 25, 2022 – Tajikistan authorities must provide a complete and convincing response to allegations that jailed journalist Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda has been subjected to severe physical abuse and mistreatment, and that he and other jailed journalists were forced to record false confessions, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On Friday, October 21, the Tajik service of U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, known locally as Radio Ozodi, published a letter written by jailed independent journalist Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda alleging police officers beat, electrocuted, and forced him to record a false confession video.

The journalist’s brother, Abdukarim Pirmuhammadzoda, told CPJ by phone that the letter was in his brother’s handwriting and said the journalist confirmed his authorship during a meeting with relatives.

In the letter, reviewed by CPJ, Pirmuhammadzoda wrote that the mistreatment was so extreme that he “thought [he] would die.”

Radio Ozodi has received information from multiple sources that six journalists currently in detention in Tajikistan have been forced to record confession videos, according to a senior journalist at the outlet who spoke to CPJ by phone on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

Radio Ozodi was unable to establish the circumstances under which these recordings had been made, the journalist told CPJ, and CPJ was unable to verify this claim further.

“Allegations of severe mistreatment, threats, and forced confessions by Tajik law enforcement agencies, while nothing new, are deeply concerning and demand a full and convincing answer from Tajik authorities,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “It is high time Tajik authorities stop exploiting the secrecy in which they have shrouded cases against journalists to so egregiously and abhorrently violate their rights, and release all unjustly jailed members of the press at once.”

On July 9, police arrested Pirmuhammadzoda, a former state radio journalist who published his views on social issues and freedom of speech on his YouTube channel with 39,000 subscribers, as CPJ documented. Pirmuhammadzoda interviewed and appeared on the YouTube channels of imprisoned journalists Daler Imomali and Abdullo Ghurbati before their June 15 arrest and was vocal in calling for the pair’s release, which the journalist’s brother told CPJ was likely the reason for his prosecution.

On October 13, Pirmuhammadzoda’s lawyer told independent outlet Asia Plus that his client had confessed but denied that the guilty plea had been made under duress. Pirmuhammadzoda’s lawyer did not reply to CPJ’s calls and messages.

In his letter published October 21, Pirmuhammadzoda said authorities charged him under Article 307(3).2 of Tajikistan’s criminal code for “participation in banned extremist organizations,” which carries a penalty of five to eight years in prison.

The journalist called the accusations “false and concocted” and said that a large part of the evidence against him is based on social media engagement made after police confiscated his phone.

Pirmuhammadzoda also detailed officers’ mistreatment and threats against him and his family for days following his arrest. Pirmuhammadzoda told family members that officers threatened to rape or bring criminal charges against them if he did not confess, his brother told CPJ.

In the letter, the journalist said officers forced him to read a script on camera, where he admits to being a revolutionary and in contact with an exiled leader of an opposition political party.

Multiple human rights bodies, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, have expressed concern at the alleged prevalence of torture and ill-treatment of detainees to extract confessions in Tajikistan.

In October, Radio Ozodi reported that video journalist Abdullo Ghurbati, sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for participating in banned organizations, was pressured and tricked by police into recording a confession video with promises of release.

In August, Radio Ozodi reported that another detained journalist, Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, retracted a televised confession during her ongoing trial, saying it had been made under duress.

A source close to the family of Zavqibek Saidamini, another former state media journalist arrested after calling for Imomali and Ghurbati’s release, told CPJ on condition of anonymity that the family had not seen or heard from him since his July arrest and that they feared he had been subjected to physical and psychological pressure.

CPJ could not independently confirm the reports of confession videos for the detained journalists or the alleged pressure of Saidamini. CPJ’s calls to the detained journalists’ lawyers went unanswered or did not connect.

The lawyers have reportedly signed nondisclosure agreements with Tajik authorities, and the journalists’ trials have been conducted behind closed doors, according to Radio Ozodi. Journalists’ relatives contacted by CPJ said they did not have information about forced confessions or declined to speak, citing fear of retaliation.

CPJ emailed the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the office of the prosecutor general of Tajikistan for comment but received no replies. A representative of the prosecutor general’s office told Radio Ozodi today that the office had not received any official complaints concerning alleged ill-treatment of detained journalists but would investigate complaints if it received them.