Tolibov, an independent journalist from northern Tajikistan, was detained on April 24 in the capital of Dushanbe, at the direction of Ayni district prosecutor Sabit Azamov. Tolibov was later transferred to the Ayni district remand center in the northern region of Sogd, according to local reports.
On July 28, a Shahristan District Court judge sentenced Tolibov to two years in a prison colony on charges of hooliganism, trespassing, and abusing his office as a local government administrator, according to local and international reports.
Nuriddin Karshiboyev, head of the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT), a press freedom group, said his organization believed the charges were fabricated in retaliation for Tolibov’s published work.
Tolibov, who is also chairman of the legal department in Ayni’s local government, wrote commentaries in the ruling party newspaper Minbar i Halq and the parliamentary newspaper Sadoi Mardum that were highly critical of the district prosecutor’s office. In three articles published in late 2004, Tolibov alleged that Azamov assaulted him and reproached local authorities for refusing to investigate. Tolibov said the attack occurred when he was seeking information from the prosecutor’s office earlier in the year.
The articles included “A barbarian prosecutor” and “Who supports a barbarian prosecutor?” in Minbar i Halq, and “Who will protect us?” in Sadoi Mardum.
Marat Mamadshoyev, a NANSMIT correspondent who monitored the 13-day trial, said the verdict came in the face of contradictory witness statements. Mamadshoyev also said several key witnesses who allegedly filed complaints against Tolibov were not present in court and instead submitted written testimony.
After the defense appealed, the Supreme Court partially overturned the conviction and ordered Tolibov’s release, according to local reports. In its October 11 ruling, the Supreme Court threw out Tolibov’s conviction for trespassing and abuse of office, and it reduced a conviction on hooliganism to a lesser charge of insult. The court also reduced Tolibov’s punishment from two years in prison to one year of corrective labor; the court accepted the six month imprisonment already served as the equivalent of a year of corrective labor. The ruling was issued two days before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Tajikistan.
But the prosecutor general’s office in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, moved immediately to block Tolibov’s release. Under the Tajik Code of Criminal Procedure, the prosecutor can suspend implementation of a Supreme Court decision by filing a letter of appeal. Sabbargun Kurbanova, spokesman for the prosecutor general’s office, told CPJ that it wanted to “check the rationale behind Tolibov’s release.”