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"Farazh" editor Khurshed Atovullo
DUSHANBE -- The chief editor of an independent Tajik newspaper says he and his relatives were beaten by unknown attackers while going to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Khurshed Atovullo, editor of the weekly "Farazh," told RFE/RL he was driving to a friend's home in Dushanbe on August 31 when a car blocked the road and forced him to stop.

Three people armed with clubs then attacked him, his brother, and his brother-in-law, who were with him.

Atovullo added that at least four more people waiting for them in Dushanbe's Zarafshon-2 district joined the first group of assailants. He said the men did not give a reason for the attack.

Qaysiddin Aliev, the officer on duty in Dushanbe's Sino-2 police station, said his station took a statement from Atovullo about the attack. Aliev added that Atovullo was sent for a medical check-up and the police were waiting for the results before launching an investigation.

Aliev said it should be easy to detain the attackers because Atovullo saw the license-plate number of the assailants' car.

Nuriddin Qarshiboev, the head of National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan, deplored the attack on Atovullo.

Qarshiboev said if there was evidence that Atovullo was beaten for being a journalist then the association would offer him legal advice.

"Farazh" and two other independent weeklies were effectively closed down for three weeks in October after not being allowed to use any printing facilities, reportedly on orders from government officials displeased by what they called "aggressive" coverage of military operations in the eastern Rasht Valley last year.

The U.S., British, French, and German ambassadors and the head of a European Union delegation cited that printing-access deprivation when expressing concerns to the Tajik Foreign Ministry in the fall about the state of media freedom in the country.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Davlat Nazriev told RFE/RL late last year that the government did not issue a ban on the printing of the newspapers. The pressure on "Farazh" was subsequently lifted.

In April, a legal dispute between three Supreme Court judges and three independent newspapers -- including "Farazh" -- was settled out of court after more than a year of dispute.

The case began in January 2010 when the newspapers "Ozodagon," "Farazh," and "Asia Plus" published a statement by lawyer Solehjon Juraev accusing the Supreme Court of corruption.

Atovullo was also attacked and nearly killed by unknown attackers in 1995 when he worked as a journalist.
The entrance to the city of Taraz
TARAZ, Kazakhstan -- Dozens of relatives of inmates at a labor camp in southern Kazakhstan have been charged with "illegally gathering" at the jail where they feared the inmates were being mistreated, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The relatives were detained outside the camp in the town of Taraz on August 27.

Nurlan Sarshaev and Elmira Qurmanova -- who were not among those detained -- told RFE/RL that they and dozens of others gathered outside the camp after learning from human rights activists about disturbances there.

Sarshaev, whose two brothers are serving prison terms in the camp, said he saw thick smoke and heard noise reminiscent of beating and inmates' cries for help.

Qurmanova, whose son is a camp inmate, told RFE/RL she saw several ambulances nearby. She said medical personnel told the relatives that several inmates had slashed their veins and jumped from upper floors to protest camp conditions.

Qurmanova also said she was allowed to see her son, whose face was bruised. "However, I was instructed by the prison officials to tell the other relatives outside that everything is fine and nothing bad is going on," Qurmanova said.

Qurmanova added that she and her grandmother were beaten by security forces when they refused to disperse. "One of the officers took out his pistol and told me he would shoot me if I did not leave," Qurmanova said.

But officials have denied the reports, saying authorities had merely confiscated large amounts of contraband items from the inmates before being forced to deploy troops to control a rowdy group of relatives.

Sultan Kusetov, who heads the Justice Ministry's Committee to Monitor Penitentiaries (KUIS), told journalists on August 27 that prison guards set about confiscating illegal objects such as mobile phones, drugs, and knives from the inmates the previous day. He said four truckloads of such objects were removed from the camp premises.

"Somebody organized the gathering of the relatives, many of whom were drunk, and when they refused to leave, we had to deploy Interior Ministry troops and representatives of the local prosecutor's office. Thirty-eight of those who called themselves inmates' relatives were detained. All of them were later charged with organizing and participating in an illegal mass gathering in front of the jail," Kusetov said.

KUIS spokesperson Samal Ghadylbekova, who was also at the press conference with Kusetov, told journalists that local prosecutor's office staff and some of the relatives were allowed to enter the camp and meet with the inmates in order to see for themselves that nothing untoward was happening.

Read more in Kazakh here

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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