Independent Tajik journalist Daler Sharifov was arrested on January 28, 2020, and charged with inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred. He was sentenced to one year in prison in April 2020, and is imprisoned in the Yovon Penal Colony No. 6 in southwestern Tajikistan.
Sharifov is a freelance reporter who often writes about the lives of Muslims in Tajikistan, according to Saymuddin Dustov, an exiled Tajik journalist and chair of the European Congress of Tajik Journalists and Bloggers, a freedom of expression group, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. From 2013 to 2019, Sharifov worked for the independent news website Ozodagon, which closed in 2019 “after years of harassment and intimidation,” according news reports. He contributed to the now-defunct news website Rushnoi.tj and the Tajik service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), according to news reports and an article with his byline on RFE/RL’s website.
On January 28, 2020, police in Dushanbe, the capital, raided Sharifov’s home and confiscated a computer and several books, according to a report by the independent regional news website Fergana. Later that day, authorities summoned him to a local police station and detained him for questioning, according to that report.
On January 30, Sharifov’s family learned that the Tajik state security agency, the State Committee of National Security, was holding the journalist in pretrial detention, according to Dustov, who is a friend of Sharifov and who has been following the case.
The Tajik prosecutor general’s office issued a statement on February 1, 2020, announcing that Sharifov had been charged with inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred. The journalist’s father, Abdumannon Sharifov, denied the charges and said they were retaliation for his son’s writing, according to Fergana.
Sharifov’s lawyer, Abdurakhmon Sharipov, was able to see the journalist only after he was charged and after signing a non-disclosure agreement on the case, Dustov said.
According to the Tajik prosecutor-general’s office’s statement, the charges against Sharifov stemmed from “more than 200 articles and commentaries containing extremist content” he published between 2013 and 2019. The announcement did not specify which articles allegedly contained such content.
CPJ reviewed Sharifov’s articles published on Ozodagon in 2013, 2014, and 2015; CPJ was unable to review his articles after 2015 because they were not accessible online. The articles are opinion columns and analytical pieces that criticize, often in a satirical form, Tajik authorities, the religious establishment, and President Emomali Rahmon for alleged corruption, persecution of opposition leaders and independent journalists, censorship, wasteful budget spending, insufficient salaries and pensions, and ostentatious patriotism. Sharifov’s articles also highlighted the hardships experienced by the Tajik people, such as low salaries, intermittent access to electricity, and injustice, CPJ found.
In some articles that CPJ reviewed, Sharifov criticized the government for allegedly applying selective justice and persecuting people for their membership in the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, which was banned in 2015 as a “terrorist and extremist organization” (the articles CPJ reviewed were published before the ban). The decision to ban the party was considered politically motivated by internationally recognized experts and institutions, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, as well as a statement of the U.S. Embassy to Tajikistan.
Dustov told CPJ that a judge filed the charges against Sharifov on January 30 and ordered the journalist to be held for two months pending trial.
The court sessions on Sharifov’s case were held on April 13, 15, and 16, 2020, according to Sharifov’s wife Saida Qurbonova, who corresponded with CPJ in September 2020 via email.
On April 16, 2020, the Shokhmansur district court of Dushanbe sentenced Sharifov to one year in a standard regime penal colony, a type of prison that combines detention with compulsory labor.
His lawyer and his relatives did not receive the copy of his sentence for over 10 days, which was illegal, according to news reports. On May 23, Abdumannon Sharifov, journalist’s father, told RFE/RL’s Tajik service that Sharifov had been transferred to the Yovon Penal Colony No. 6 two days earlier, but that his family had not been informed and learned about it from news reports.
According to Abdumannon Sharifov’s interview with RFE/RL’s Tajik service in May 2020, he had received news that his son had health issues; the father could not see his son due to coronavirus-related restrictions, so he filed an official request to the Ombudsman to inquire about the journalist’s health, and received a response that his son was already feeling well. Sharifov’s father also spoke to RFE/RL’s Tajik service about his son’s deteriorating health in August 2020.
Qurbonova, Sharifov’s wife, told CPJ in September 2020 that the journalist was experiencing heart problems and complained of heart pains. Qurbonova said the prison doctors prescribed Sharifov medications for his condition, but it is his family that has to purchase these medications and pass them on to the journalist.
In August 2020, Sharifov’s father filed a petition for his son’s early release due to his deteriorating health condition; in September the court refused to grant the early release, according to news reports. The court also denied a petition to transfer Sharifov from the standard regime penal colony to a settlement colony, according to Qurbonova.
In September 2020, CPJ emailed Diyor Sharifzoda, the state official in charge of communication at the Tajik prosecutor-general’s office, for comment regarding Sharifov’s deteriorating health, the rejection of his parents’ petition, and the alleged violations during Sharifov’s arrest, but did not receive a response.