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Tajik Journalist Jailed On 'Absurd' Extremism Charges

Updated

Tajik journalist Daler Sharifov (file photo)

DUSHANBE -- A Tajik court has sentenced independent journalist Daler Sharifov to one year in a penal colony in a case media watchdogs labelled an "absurd extremism" trial.

Sharifov's lawyer, Abdurahmon Sharifov, said after the April 16 verdict that his client did not intend to appeal, although he rejected the charges against him. The two men are not related.

The prosecution had called for Sharifov to be sentenced to two years and four months.

Sharifov, who writes about domestic politics and religious issues, was arrested on January 28 on charges of inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred and spreading "propaganda" on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office says the case is based on "more than 200 articles and commentaries containing extremist content" aimed at "inciting religious intolerance" that were published on social media between 2013 and 2019.

The charges centered on a dissertation Sharifov published in 2019 that examined Islamic theology and included quotes from Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

Similar to several authoritarian countries in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Tajikistan considers the group an extremist organization and banned it in 2006.

Sharifov's relatives, human rights organizations, and media-freedom groups have rejected the accusations against him as unfounded and have demanded his immediate release.

Oinichol Bobonazarova, a well-known lawyer and head of the public organization Perspective+, said she read several of the articles in question during the case.

"In no article did I find anything that would warrant a criminal investigation. Daler should have been released in the courtroom because the prosecution did not have obvious evidence of his guilt," she said.

Speaking to RFE/RL after a court hearing on April 15, Sharifov’s father rejected the charges against his son.

"Daler explained that he wrote the treatise Muhammad and Terrorism so that young people do not join terrorist and extremist groups and movements," Abdumannon Sharifov said.

Calling the incitement charges "absurd," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists have said Sharifov's arrest was aimed at silencing a critical journalist ahead of parliamentary elections in March that were won, as expected, by President Emomali Rahmon's ruling party.

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 RSF.

Eight years ago, the journalist spent several days in hospital after being beaten in a still unpunished attack.

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