DUSHANBE -- Four Tajik vloggers have gone on trial over secretly filming talks with prostitutes in Dushanbe.
The trial of Rustam Ashurov, Behruz Sharifi, Shahriyor Jalilov, and Yusufjon Davlatmurod started in the Tajik capital, on October 15.
The four are charged with breaching privacy laws by producing YouTube videos in June in which two of the vloggers 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 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."
Then, in a final shot in the video, the vloggers 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 vloggers were formally charged with "illegally gathering and disseminating information about personal lives" and face a maximum punishment of up to $2,500 in fines or up to 12 months of penal labor if found guilty.
They deny any wrongdoing, insisting that the sex workers' identities were never revealed in the videos, which they wanted to use to raise the issue of prostitution in the mostly Muslim populated Central Asian nation.
The Tajik government has been widely criticized for its crackdown on independent media, political opponents, and its critics.
In its World Press Freedom Index of 2019, Reporters Without Borders placed Tajikistan in 161st place out of 180 countries.
Authorities also often restrict access to social networks, such as Facebook and YouTube.