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Tajik Journalist On Trial Asks Court To Release Him

Tajik journalist Mahmadyusuf Ismoilov
Tajik journalist Mahmadyusuf Ismoilov
KHUJAND, Tajikistan -- A Tajik journalist who wrote articles critical of local authorities has told his trial he is not guilty of the charges against him and asked that he be released, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported.

Mahmadyusuf Ismoilov made the remarks in court in Khujand on October 13, a day before a verdict is expected in his trial on charges including libel, insulting public officials, extortion, and inciting regional hatred. The prosecutor has demanded a 16-year prison term.

Ismoilov is a correspondent in northern Sughd Province for the newspaper "Nuri Zindagi" (Light of Life).

The charges of libel, insult, and inciting hatred are connected to Ismoilov's reports, in which he criticized alleged corruption among local authorities and a lack of transparency in the distribution of land in his native Asht district, among other topics.

In his final statement on October 13, he said he sought simply to have shortcomings rectified, and that he was detained for his activities as a journalist. He called on the court to acquit and release him.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) earlier this week called for Ismoilov's immediate release.

"If journalists who criticize government officials face criminal charges, lengthy investigative detention, and punitive prison sentences, Tajikistan risks stifling public discourse," the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement.

Local and international organizations that focus on journalism and human rights addressed an open letter to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in early September asking him to ensure that Ismoilov receives a fair trial.