Tajikistan: BBC journalist on trial
The trial of journalist Urunboy Usmonov of the British Broadcasting Service's Central Asian Service, on behalf of whom we have been campaigning since his arrest in June this year, began last week. Usmonov is indicted on fabricated charges of 'complicity in the activities of banned extremist Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir'. English PEN is calling for the trumped up charges against Usmonov to be dropped and for the Tajik authorities to ensure that no individual is persecuted for carrying out legitimate journalistic activities. Please send letters of appeal - details below.
Usmonov was originally arrested on 13 June 2011, accused of membership of the banned extremist Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir. He was later reported to have been indicted on charges of 'making public calls for mass disorder', which carry a maximum 15-year sentence. This was later changed again, to 'complicity in the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir', for which he faces up to five years in prison if convicted. The BBC has vehemently denied the charges against Usmonov, insisting that any contact he had with Hizb ut-Tahrir members was as part of his journalistic duties.
Whilst in detention, there were widespread concerns for Usmonov's health as he suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. Hamid Ismailov, an English PEN member who works with Usmonov at the BBC Central Asian Service, visited him in prison on 27 June 2011 and reported that he was 'horrified' to find his colleague in an extremely frail physical and psychological state. English PEN joined Usmonov's colleagues at the BBC for weekly vigils outside BBC's World Service Bush House (photos here), until he was released on bail on 14 July 2011, having signed a written pledge to remain in Tajikistan to face the charges.
Usmonov's trial began one month later, on 15 August 2011, in the Northern city of Khujand . Our colleagues at the BBC World Service published the following statement last week:
BBC World Service is concerned about the treatment of its correspondent, Urunboy Usmonov, after details of torture emerged during his trial which commenced this week in Khojand , Tajikistan .
When questioned, Mr Usmonov told the court that he'd been tortured in custody following his arrest on 13th June this year, including beatings and security officers burning his arms with cigarettes. He also said he'd been forced to sign a confession which had been dictated to him.
The BBC condemns the torture of Mr Usmonov and has asked the Tajikistan authorities to investigate these incidents.
The BBC has consistently maintained Mr Usmonov's innocence and regards the allegations as completely unfounded. Meetings and interviews with people representing all shades of opinion are part of the work of any BBC journalist.
The BBC has asked the Tajik authorities to drop all charges against Mr Usmonov so he can return to his work as a highly respected journalist and writer.
According to Usmonov's lawyer, Faiziniso Vokhidova, the prosecutors have 'claimed as evidence' articles about the banned extremist group which Usmonov had downloaded from the internet, as well as the fact that he had met with several of their members. His lawyer stated that he has also been accused of using the BBC as a platform for Hizb ut-Tahrir propaganda.
For more information on Usmonov's case, please see the following:
Please send letters and emails to the authorities in Tajikistan (NB A sample letter follow):
- Calling for the trumped up charges against Usmonov to be dropped immediately;
- Condemning the reported torture of Usmonov and asking the authorities to investigate these claims.
Appeals to be sent to:
Mr. Emomali Rahmon,
President of Tajikistan,
Tajikistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Dushanbe Rudaki 42
Fax. 992 372 210 259
Please also send copies of your appeals to the Embassy in London:
His Excellency Mr. Erkin Kasymov
26-28 Hammersmith Grove,
Fax: 0208 834 1100
Please do let us know if you send an appeal and certainly if you should receive a response from the authorities by emailing email@example.com
Please do write a more personal letter if you have time – the following is just an example
I am writing to you on as a member of English PEN, the founding centre of the international association of writers, to express my concern for BBC journalist Urunboy Usmonov whose trial on fabricated charges of ‘complicity in the activities of banned extremist Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir’ began last week.
Urunboy Usmonov was originally arrested on 13 June 2011, accused of membership of the banned extremist Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir. He was later reported to have been indicted on charges of ‘making public calls for mass disorder’, which carry a maximum 15-year sentence. This was later changed again, to ‘complicity in the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir’, for which he faces up to five years in prison if convicted. These charges are widely believed to be fabricated and have been vehemently denied by the BBC, which insists that any contact Mr Usmonov had with Hizb ut-Tahrir members was as part of his journalistic duties. I am therefore calling for these charges to be dropped immediately in order to enable Mr Usmonov to return to his work as a highly respected journalist and writer.
Furthermore, I was troubled to learn that, when questioned during his trial last week, Mr Usmonov told the court that he had been tortured whilst in custody. Mr Usmonov claims to have been subjected to beatings following his arrest, and stated that security officers had burned his arms with cigarettes. He also claims to have been forced to sign a confession which had been dictated to him, pledging to remain in Tajikistan to face the charges. I am deeply concerned by these reports of torture, and call upon the authorities to investigate these claims as a matter of urgency and to bring those responsible to justice.
I would welcome your comments on my appeal.