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Tajikistan: Detained BBC journalist may have suffered torture

Reporter Urunboy Usmonov named prisoner of conscience

The Tajikistani authorities must immediately release a BBC journalist who has been held - apparently solely for his work - since mid-June, said Amnesty International today.

There are allegations that Urunboy Usmonov, a reporter with the BBC Central Asian Service, has suffered tortured or ill-treated while in detention.

Mr Usmonov was arrested on 13 June and has been charged with participation in the banned Islamic movement Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Mr Usmonov did not come home from work on 13 June, but briefly returned the next day with state security officers who searched his house. While this took place relatives saw injuries on Mr Usmonov’s neck which they believe were the result of torture or other forms of ill-treatment during his detention.

On 15 June an Interior Ministry spokesperson said that Mr Usmonov was suspected of being a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir since 2009, and of conducting extremist propaganda using the internet. However Usmonov's lawyer told Amnesty on 2 July that the investigation had found no evidence of Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership.

State security officials said yesterday that, despite earlier allegations made by the Interior Ministry, Mr Usmonov was not accused of being a Hizb-ut-Tahrir member but that their investigation was still focusing on his involvement in the organisation. He is being held in pre-trial detention in the northern city of Khujand.

A BBC colleague who was allowed to visit him in detention said that he appeared "frail mentally and psychologically". Hamid Ismailov of the BBC Central Asian Service, met Usmonov for ten minutes and reported on 28 June: "I was expecting to see a physically frail man but he was frail mentally and psychologically as well and that was very difficult to see. He was talking to me but his eyes were fixed on the security officers."

Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director John Dalhuisen said:

"Amnesty International considers that the charges against Urunboy Usmonov have been fabricated purely as punishment for his journalistic work and for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

"We consider him to be a prisoner of conscience. He should be released immediately and unconditionally. The authorities must also conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into the torture allegations and bring those responsible to justice."

Today, officials from the State Committee on National Security of Tajikistan told the BBC that he was not accused of Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership, but that the investigation was focusing on his involvement in the organisation and on his failing to inform the authorities of his contacts with it.

Urunboy Usmonov had no access to a lawyer for a week after his arrest. Since 14 June his family has been able to see him only once for half an hour in the presence of officials.

Amnesty has campaigned against human rights violations in Tajikistan such as torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers, impunity for torturers, violence against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights; and restrictions of freedom of speech.

In recent years independent media outlets and journalists have faced criminal and civil law suits for criticising the government.

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