Concerns are growing about the fate of a BBC journalist detained in northern Tajikistan. Urinboy Usmonov, who has worked with the BBC Central Asian Service for ten years, was arrested on June 13, accused of being a member of a banned Islamic movement. Media rights activists say he has not had access to a lawyer and believe he has been beaten in custody. Usmonov, 59, is diabetic and suffers from high blood pressure.
Authorities told the AP that Usmonov is suspected of membership in Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamic movement banned throughout Central Asia, but which operates legally in some western countries and has never been tied to violence.
Journalists who know Usmonov say he has reported on Hizb-ut-Tahrir, but that he is a secular man. If he had copies of banned material, they said, it was simply so he could do his job.
In a statement, the BBC added: “Whilst Mr. Usmonov has reported on the judicial trials and activities of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party in Tajikistan at the request of the BBC, the BBC has no reason to believe these allegations. The BBC deplores the alleged treatment of Mr. Usmonov whilst detained, in particular the denial of access to a legal representative.”
Dushanbe frequently arrests alleged members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and has engaged in a concerted effort to silence followers of Islam in recent years. This winter, authorities stepped up a campaign against beards, which sometimes identify Muslim believers, and introduced legislation banning children from attending mosques.
"These charges against Urinboy Usmonov are nothing but an attempt to censor coverage of sensitive political and religious issues," the Committee to Protect Journalists Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said in a statement.
Family members who have seen Usmonov say he appeared to have been beaten in custody, as is common in Tajikistan. In a video statement, US Ambassador Ken Gross said, “We call on government officials to vigorously investigate the alleged mistreatment of Mr. Usmonov by security forces and adhere to transparent international judicial standards. We believe journalists should not endure physical abuse or imprisonment for what they write.”
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