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Independent Tajik Weekly Found Guilty Of Libel

DUSHANBE -- A Tajik court has found an independent weekly guilty of libel and ordered it to pay the Agriculture Ministry damages over an article that accused the ministry of corruption, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

District court Judge Dilorom Abdurahimova ruled in Dushanbe on February 8 that "Millat" must pay 1,500 somons ($333) to the ministry in moral damages and make an official apology to it. The trial had lasted more than one year.

At the end of 2009, "Millat" wrote an article about corruption in Tajikistan in which it quoted the country's Anticorruption Agency and some members of the parliament as calling the Agriculture Ministry the most corrupt entity in Tajikistan.

The ministry said the article was libelous and asked for 1 million somons from "Millat" as compensation.

An Agriculture Ministry representative said on February 8 it was satisfied because the court ruled the newspaper must publicly apologize for the corruption allegation in the article, as well as pay for moral damages caused by the article.

But "Millat" lawyer Junaid Ibodov said the court's ruling was unjustified, because the newspaper had quoted officials responsible for fighting corruption and had official statistics that showed corruption levels at the ministry.

Ibodov said "Millat" would appeal the ruling to the Dushanbe city court.

Akbar Sattor, the head of Tajikistan's Union of Journalists, said on February 8 that the court ruling was made to put pressure on journalists.

"Millat" chief editor Adolat Mirzo said the court decision would not change the weekly's determination to fight corruption.