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Tajik journalists convicted, released from jail

Journalist Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov was convicted on insult charges today, but was released from prison. He is banned from all journalistic work for three years. (RFE/RL Radio Ozodi)

New York, October 14, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists is relieved by today's release of two Tajik journalists, but condemns their convictions on extremism and insult, among other charges, and calls for the quashing of the convictions on appeal.

The Sogd Regional Court in northern Tajikistan convicted BBC correspondent Urinboy Usmonov on charges of failing to report to the authorities the activities of the banned Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and sentenced him to three years in jail, the independent news website ASIA-Plus reported. The court amnestied the journalist and released him after the verdict, the BBC reported.

A court in the city of Khujand declared Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov, a reporter with the independent weekly Nuri Zindagi, guilty on separate counts of extortion, insult, and incitement to regional hostility through mass media, and ordered him to pay 35,000 somoni (about US$7,200) in damages to the government officials he allegedly insulted, the Tajik service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. The court also banned the journalist from practicing journalism for three years. He was released from custody.

"We are pleased by the release of Urinboy Usmonov and Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov, but are still concerned by their guilty verdicts and call for their convictions to be quashed," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "Both journalists must be allowed to report freely, and Ismoilov's ban on journalism must be overturned."

Urinboy Usmonov was sentenced to jail today, but released after the verdict was announced. (RFE/RL Radio Ozodi)

Usmonov reported on Hizb-ut-Tahrir activities in Tajikistan for the BBC, which the broadcaster confirmed in a statement after the journalist's arrest on June 13 on extremism charges. Facing international outcry, Tajik authorities released Usmonov in July, but put him on trial a month later.

Ismoilov was tried in connection with an August 2010 article he wrote for Nuri Zindagi, in which he criticized local government officials for corruption, abuse of office, and mismanagement of funds. Regional prosecutors opened a criminal case against him on charges that included defamation, insult, extortion, and incitement to hatred. He was arrested in November, and faced 16 years in jail.

Usmonov and Ismoilov protested the verdicts, and said they plan to appeal them in higher courts, the regional press reported. Both journalists have been prosecuted on politically motivated charges in retaliation for their work, CPJ research shows.

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