The New York-based human rights watchdog has called on the Tajik authorities to release the two detained bloggers and respect media freedom.     

A statement released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on June 22 says, “Tajik authorities should respect freedom of expression and stop preventing journalists from carrying out their professional activities.

The country’s regional and international partners should also hold Tajikistan accountable to its human rights obligations, according to the statement.

“Critical voices and opinions are important for a democratic society and stifling them is a violation of international human rights norms on freedom of expression,” said Ms. Syinat Sultanaliyeva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.  “Journalists and bloggers currently in detention for their work should be released, and their cases independently reviewed.”

Concerning the detained bloggers Abdullo Ghurbati and Daler Imomali, Ms. Sultanaliyeva noted that they are being targeted for their professional activities, despite being protected by Tajikistan’s laws and international obligations on freedom of expression and media freedom. 

“Criticizing government institutions is not a crime, and the bloggers should be released immediately and all charges against them dropped,” she added.

The HRW statement notes that the prosecution of Abdullo Ghurbati and Daler Imomali “comes on the heels of other cases of harassment, intimidation, and unlawful imprisonment of journalists in Tajikistan.” “Over the past month, two other journalists, Khushom Ghulom and Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoyeva, were detained without due process…,” the statement says.

According to the statement, a former security services colonel, Mamadsulton Mavlonazarov, was detained as well, seemingly in connection to his critical comments about the current head of the State Committee on National Security…  His whereabouts were reportedly revealed only three days after his detention.

Recall, Abdullo Ghurbati and Daler Imomali, two popular bloggers known for their reports criticizing authorities, were detained in Dushanbe late on June 15 after being summoned by police for questioning.

Ghurbati is accused of beating a police officer at the police station in Dushanbe’s Shohmansour district, a charge that could carry a fine or a two-year prison sentence.

Daler Imomali was charged with illegal entrepreneurship and premeditated false denunciation.

Abdullo Ghurbati denied the accusations and pleaded not guilty, while Daler Imomali previously pleaded guilty partially. 

A court in Dushanbe’s Shohmansour district has ordered pretrial detention of two months for Abdullo Ghurbati and Daler Imomali.  According to Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service, they were remanded in custody for two months after two separate hearings held in secret over the weekend.

During the court hearing on June 18, the court added a charge of “participation in activities of political parties, public or religious associations, which are banned in Tajikistan in connection with the implementation of extremist activities, as well as assistance in their activities with use of mass media, Internet network or otherwise” under Article 307 note 3 (2) of Tajikistan’s Penal Code against Daler Imomali.  If convicted he could face seven years in prison.

The city police in both Dushanbe and Vahdat, where Daler Imomali had traveled to film a documentary, had previously interrogated Imomali about his professional activities as an independent blogger.  On June 4, when the Dushanbe police questioned Imomali, they beat him, but later released him on the condition that he would delete some content from his YouTube channel.

The arrests come after an outcry by human rights advocates and media groups over an attack on journalists from RFE/RL's Tajik Service and Current Time last month.  Tajik authorities have launched a probe into the incident.

Journalists and civil rights activists had previously demanded an investigation into recent attacks on journalists, and called for the release of Abdullo Ghurbati and Daler Imomali.  Reporters Without Borders  condemned their detention, calling for their immediate release.