Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva

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Freelance journalist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva is serving a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted in December 2022 on multiple anti-state charges in relation to the outbreak of mass protests in the country’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. Authorities arrested Mamadshoeva in May 2022 after accusing her of organizing those protests by the region’s Pamiri ethnic minority.

Mamadshoeva is a freelance journalist and human rights defender who writes about cultural, social, and geopolitical issues in Gorno-Badakhshan for various publications, always writing under a pseudonym for fear of retaliation, several Pamiri journalists told CPJ on condition of anonymity, themselves fearing reprisal from authorities. She is a member of Tajikistan’s linguistically and religiously distinct Pamiri minority, according to those sources.

Several months before her arrest, Mamadshoeva opened the news website Pamir Plus, aiming to remedy the absence of independent media in Gorno-Badakhshan, according to those sources and a statement by the outlet. She also ran the human rights non-governmental organization Nomus va Insof (Dignity and Justice), which worked on women’s rights and other issues.

Following the eruption of protests in Gorno-Badakhshan in mid-May 2022, Tajikistan authorities launched an “anti-terrorism” operation in the region, which reportedly resulted in at least 34 deaths and hundreds of arrests among the local population. Authorities have sought to suppress independent reporting on the protests and the government operation, as CPJ has documented, and initiated a major crackdown on the press following the Badakhshan events.

On May 17, 2022, the Interior Ministry of Tajikistan published a statement accusing Mamadshoeva and two influential Pamiri figures of organizing the unrest in Badakhshan. The following morning, officers with the State Committee for National Security and the prosecutor general’s office arrested Mamadshoeva at her home in the capital, Dushanbe, and searched her home, according to news reports.

In comments to independent regional news website Fergana the day before her arrest, Mamadshoeva described the Interior Ministry’s accusation as “utterly absurd.” Pamiri journalists, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CPJ they believed Tajik authorities arrested Mamadshoeva because they knew she would not stay silent about human rights abuses in the upcoming operation to suppress the Badakhshan protests.

On May 24, Tajik state television broadcast “Failure of the Conspiracy,” a film produced by a state-owned film company, which showed Mamadshoeva and her detained ex-husband Kholbash Kholbashov admitting to organizing unrest in Gorno-Badakhshan together with members of Tajikistan’s banned, exile-based opposition. The film uses CCTV footage from a meeting between Mamadshoeva and U.S. embassy staff in a Dushanbe café to allege that the journalist received instructions from Western diplomats to foment the protests. An embassy spokesperson denied the allegations as “absolutely false,” saying the nature of the meeting had been “mischaracterized.” 

Mamadshoeva’s closed-door trial in the State Committee for National Security detention center in Dushanbe began on August 3, according to Radio Ozodi, the Tajik service of U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Authorities brought eight charges against Mamadshoeva, including leading part of a criminal group and calling for the overthrow of the constitutional order.

During the trial, Mamadshoeva stated that her confession was made under duress, according to Radio Ozodi.

Sources familiar with the case told CPJ, on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, that authorities classified the case against Mamadshoeva as secret and made her lawyer sign a nondisclosure agreement, so neither the media nor the journalist’s family received reliable information about the charges against her. 

In December 2022, authorities sentenced Mamadshoeva to 20 years in prison on 10 charges, including treason, terrorism, forming a criminal group, violent usurpation of state power, murder, and attempted murder, in relation to the Gorno-Badakhshan protests, according to Radio Ozodi and a January 26 statement by the prosecutor general’s office. CPJ was unable to establish how she pleaded.

During the same trial, Mamadshoeva’s brother, Khursand Mamadshoev, and her ex-husband were sentenced to 18 years and life in prison, respectively, for their alleged roles in the protests. Khushruz Jumayev, a blogger and journalist who worked with Mamadshoeva on Pamir Plus and other projects under the pen name Khushom Gulyam, was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Mamadshoeva and Jumayev are among seven journalists in Tajikistan sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for their work between October 2022 and May 2023, as CPJ has documented

In a May 2023 response by Tajik authorities to two letters from U.N. Human Rights Council special rapporteurs, which had expressed concern over the cases of Mamadshoeva and other detained Pamiri rights defenders, the authorities made no mention of allegations of Western and U.S. involvement, instead alleging that Mamadshoeva was an “active member with media experience” of criminal gangs that allegedly operated in Gorno-Badakhshan. They said that Mamadshoeva and a local Pamiri leader had been tasked by Tajikistan’s banned opposition with unifying “all the extant criminal groups in the region” in order to seize power, and claimed that she was responsible both for coordinating and mediatizing the groups’ actions against state authorities.

In a statement in July 2023, experts with the U.N. Human Rights Council expressed concern about the convictions of Mamadshoeva and at least five other journalists imprisoned in Tajikistan, citing the “apparent use of anti-terrorism legislation to silence critical voices.” The U.N. experts said the cases appeared to have “grossly violated” fair trial standards, and that they were “appalled” by reports that Mamadshoeva and other journalists were “ill-treated and tortured, including to extract false confessions.” 

Mamadshoeva is serving her sentence in Correctional Facility YaS3/8 for women in the town of Norak, according to Radio Ozodi. Sources familiar with her case told CPJ, on condition of anonymity, due to fear of reprisal, that she suffered from severe depression and mental health issues during her pre-trial detention, but that as of October 2023 her health had improved.

CPJ emailed the prosecutor general’s office and the Interior Ministry of Tajikistan about Mamadshoeva’s case but did not receive any replies.