DUSHANBE – A Tajik court has begun the trial of a journalist on extremism charges that international media-freedom watchdogs have called "absurd."
Daler Sharifov, who writes about domestic politics and religious issues, was arrested on January 28 on charges of inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred. He could be jailed for up to five years if found guilty.
His lawyer, Abdurahmon Sharifov, said on April 15 that the judge has told him the trial “is open to the public” but that the number of people allowed into the courtroom would be limited “due to warnings by the World Health Organization” about large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sharipov’s trial was initially scheduled to begin on April 13 but the hearing was postponed for two days because the state prosecutor was absent.
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.
Sharifov's relatives, human rights organizations, and media-freedom groups have rejected the accusations as unfounded and have demanded his immediate release.
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," Sharipov often commented on violations of human rights and religious freedoms, according to RSF.
Eight years ago, the journalist spent several days in a hospital after being beaten in a still unpunished attack.