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Detained BBC Correspondent In Tajikistan Released


Urunboy Usmonov (file photo)
Tajikistan has released a correspondent for the BBC who was taken into custody one month ago on suspicion of belonging to a banned Islamic group.

Urunboy Usmonov was freed from jail today in the northern city of Khujand and reunited with his wife, Malohat Abduazimova.

Tajikistan's Asia-Plus website reported that Tajik Prosecutor General Sherkhon Salimzoda said the government had "studied a criminal case against Usmonov and come to the conclusion [that it] can continue conducting the case without keeping the accused in custody."

Before he was released, Usmonov told RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Khiromon Bakoeva by phone that he was "very happy" to be regaining his freedom but not surprised at the turn of events.

"I believed in the justice of Tajikistan's leaders," he said. "I am sure that Tajikistan is building a democratic secular state. That is why [my release] was not unexpected for me."

He spoke only briefly, saying he had been instructed not to give interviews.

Mahmadjon Khayrulloev, a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, told RFE/RL earlier that Usmonov's release was on condition that he did not leave Khujand, in Tajikistan's northern Sughd Province.

Usmonov, 59, is an ethnic Uzbek citizen of Tajikistan who has worked for the BBC for about 10 years. He was detained on June 13 and accused of belonging to the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which he denies. He has said he met with members of the group in the course of doing his job as a journalist.

In a statement, the BBC World Service said it was "delighted" at his release.

BBC Global News Director Peter Horrocks said, "We are encouraged that Tajik authorities have considered our appeals. As we have said all along we believe Urunboy is innocent and all he was doing was his journalistic work for the BBC."

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned his arrest as part of the government's effort to curtail coverage of certain political and religious issues.

As she waited outside the prosecutor's office for her husband to be released, Malohat Abduazimova told our correspondent that she had only been allowed to see Usmonov once during the month he was detained.

Tajikistan's Ambassador to Austria Nuriddin Shamsov sent a letter today to the Vienna-based Representative for Freedom of the Media with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Dunja Mijatovic, in which he reinforced Dushanbe's view on the limits of journalists' rights.

"Media workers and journalists who perform their duties in a responsible and professional manner and in compliance with the national legislation do not experience any kind of problems in their daily activity," he said, adding that prosecutions of journalists who have been detained "are taking place openly and transparently and based on rule of law."

written by Heather Maher based on reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik and Uzbek services