DUSHANBE, August 25 2011, Asia-Plus -- Amnesty International is concerned that BBC journalist Urunboy Usmonov faces up to five years’ imprisonment on charges believed to relate to his professional activities.
A statement released by Amnesty International on August 24 says that to the organization’s knowledge, no investigation has yet been carried out into allegations that he was tortured and ill-treated in pre-trial detention. The judge has reportedly yet to inquire into how he and his four co-defendants have been treated in pre-trial detention.
On August 16, 2011 the trial by Sughd Regional Court opened against Urunboy Usmonov and four suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members -- Abdunabi Abdulqodirov, Ibrohimbek Mahmoudov, Talat Mavlonov and Yahyokhon Rahmonkhoujayev -- at the investigation isolation prison No. 2 (SIZO) in the city of Khujand. The next hearing is set for August 25 in the building of Sughd Regional Court. It is expected that those officers who detained Urunboy Usmonov on June 13 will be questioned.
Urunboy Usmonov is accused of meeting these four men and receiving extremist literature; failing to report the activities of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir movement to law enforcement agencies; and using the BBC as a platform for Hizb-ut-Tahrir propaganda, thereby facilitating the commitment of crimes. His lawyer Fayziniso Vohidova told Amnesty International on August 24 that he once met Yahyokhon Rahmonkhoujayev and received Hizb-ut-Tahrir literature from him, but that he destroyed it immediately. According to Fayziniso Vohidova, he had never seen any of the other men and they also told the judge they had never seen him. Yahyokhon Rahmonkhoujayev reportedly told the judge that during his meeting with Urunboy Usmonov the journalist had expressed a negative opinion about Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
The lawyer also informed Amnesty International that the accusation that he had used the BBC as a platform for Hizb-ut-Tahrir propaganda referred to an incident when “Usmonov recorded an interview with a Hizb-ut-Tahrir member. But he never actually submitted this interview for broadcasting. Based on this only the prosecution states that he facilitated the commitment of crimes.” The prosecution additionally accused him of downloading articles from the internet about the activities of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The charges brought against him -- complicity in the activities of a banned organization of extremist character under Article 36, part 5, and Article 307.3, part 2 of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan – carry a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
Urunboy Usmonov has pleaded not guilty and told the judge that all his meetings and interviews with Hizb-ut-Tahrir members were of purely professional character as a journalist.
Amnesty International believes that Urunboy Usmonov, who worked for the BBC Central Asian service for 10 years, was targeted to punish him for his journalistic work and for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. It was part of his assignment by the BBC to report about judicial trials and activities of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir movement in Tajikistan. In this context it was normal journalistic practice to interview people of all persuasions and beliefs, to study their ideology, and to keep his sources confidential.
Urunboy Usmonov was detained by officers of the State Committee of National Security (SCNS) in Khujand on June 13, 2011. According to the BBC and Urunboy Usmonov’s lawyer, officers tortured and ill-treated him, including by burning his arms with cigarettes and beating him, before his case was passed to the SCNS investigator and his detention was officially registered on June 14. Fayziniso Vohidova told Amnesty International on August 24: “They wanted him to ’confess’ to Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership but he was able to resist. However, they got him to state in writing that he should have reported to the authorities about his meetings with his sources of information.” According to the lawyer, before his case was passed to the investigator, SCNS officers also forced him under torture to write a statement renouncing the services of a lawyer: “They said that a lawyer can’t help anyway in political cases and that there had never been a case where anyone accused of Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership had been acquitted by a court.”
To Amnesty International’s knowledge, no forensic medical examination was conducted to investigate the torture allegations although injuries were reportedly visible when he was presented to the judge on June 15 and on June 16 international and local media started to report about alleged torture. Following an international outcry Urunboy Usmonov was released on bail on July 14.
Urunboy Usmonov’s co-defendants are accused of crimes including setting up a criminal organization and incitement to national, racial or religious hatred. Three of them have not been represented by a lawyer at the trial. A person present at the trial told Amnesty International: “It is unknown whether they were held incommunicado and whether they were tortured. They are too scared to talk about anything like that”. Reportedly, the judge asked no questions about the treatment of all defendants in pre-trial detention. Under international human rights law, information and confessions obtained from the defendants under torture or threats of torture and without the presence of his lawyer must not be used as evidence in court except as evidence against the alleged perpetrators. Allegations of torture, other ill-treatment and threats of torture must be investigated thoroughly, impartially and independently.