Four Tajik bloggers have gone on trial over secretly making video about sex workers in Dushanbe.

The trial of Rustam Ashourov, Behrouz Sharifi, Shahriyor Jalilov, and Yusufjon Davlatmurod started in a court in Dushanbe’s Ismoili Somoni district on October 15.  They are charged with invasion in privacy (Article 144 of Tajikistan’s Penal Code – illegally gathering and disseminating information about personal lives).

An official source within the Ismoili Somoni court says the court heard testimony of the bloggers and three victims of their actions

If found guilty, the bloggers could face a fine of up to $2,500 in fines or up to 12 months of correctional labor, the source noting that the next hearing will be held on October 22.  .

Recall, Rustam Ashourov, Behrouz Sharifi, Shahriyor Jalilov, and Yusufjon Davlatmurod were detained in July over secretly making video about sex workers in Dushanbe.  They were released several days later on their own recognizance.

The Dushanbe prosecutor’s office has investigated their case.  Criminal proceedings have been instituted against the bloggers under the provisions of Article 144 of Tajikistan’s Penal Code. 

Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service reported on July 31 that the secretly made video two bloggers posing as potential clients looking in Dushanbe for a prostitute to hire for the night.

The men meet several sex workers separately after picking them up in their car and asking about the types of “services” they provide and the amount of money they charge.  In each conversation -- recorded with a hidden camera inside the car -- the bloggers gradually change the subject and start casually asking questions about the women’s family situation and the reasons why they’ve become prostitutes.  Unaware of the secret camera, the women get in the car and sit in the front seat while haggling about the price.

In the video footage, the women’s faces are covered by emojis, but their voices haven’t been changed. Almost all the women claim they became sex workers out of poverty and “desperation” -- to provide money for their children.

Each conversation ends with the bloggers offering “free money” to the sex workers and pleading with them to “go straight home” to their children and “refrain from [prostitution] at least for one night, tonight.”

The women were very surprised by the offer and didn't believe it at first.  But each then accepted the money and promised to go home for the night.

In a final shot in the video, the bloggers speak to the camera and call on Tajik men and officials not to buy sex and instead offer the women cash as a humanitarian act so they can go home to their families.

The undated video, produced by four Dushanbe-based bloggers, was posted on their YouTube channel Avlod Media, which has more than 24,000 subscribers.

The video, which has since been removed from Avlod Media’s account, has been watched tens of thousands of times since it first appeared on the Internet on July 19.  It spread quickly to other YouTube accounts.