Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on Tajikistan to immediately release a journalist whose trial on what the Paris-based watchdog called “absurd” extremism charges is due to kick off on April 13.
In a statement on April 11, RSF called Daler Sharifov’s arrest in late January, ahead of parliamentary elections in March that were won, as expected, by President Emomali Rahmon's ruling party, “a new warning by the authorities to critical journalists and media.”
Sharifov, a Dushanbe-based journalist who writes about domestic politics and religious issues, was arrested by the intelligence services on January 28.
He is facing up to five years in prison if found guilty of the charges against him -- “inciting national, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred” and “propaganda” on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned in Tajikistan since 2006.
Prosecutors say the case is based on “more than 200 articles and commentaries containing extremist content” that were published between 2013 and 2019.
Calling the charges “surprising,” RSF noted that Sharifov has “repeatedly criticized religious extremism and terrorism.”
Writing for the independent news website Ozodagon from 2013 until its closure last year following “years of harassment,” Sharifov often commented on violations of human rights and religious freedoms, according to the media freedom watchdog.
It said the journalist was hospitalized eight years ago after being “badly beaten in a still unpunished attack.”
Tajikistan is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.