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What Lies Behind the Arrest of Tajik Journalist Daler Sharifov?

Journalist Daler Sharifov was detained by the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) in Tajikistan. He is accused of inciting ethnic and religious hatred. However, Sharifov’s relatives and colleagues do not agree with the accusations.

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Journalist Daler Sharifov was detained on January 28, 2020. According to his relatives, that day, about 11 AM, he received a phone invitation to Dushanbe for a conversation. Daler Sharifov left his home in Vahdat (a city 10 kilometers east of Dushanbe) for the capital. He did not return home that day.

Journalist’s relatives and colleagues only knew that Daler was in the building of the State Committee for National Security in Dushanbe. Only at the night of January 29, Daler’s father Abdumannon Sharifov was allowed a short meeting with his son in the detention center. After the meeting, Daler’s father said that his son’s condition was good and he did not complain about the confinement conditions. However, the father did not know anything about the root of the matter.

Daler Sharifov. Photo: Asiaplustj.info
Daler Sharifov. Photo: Asiaplustj.info

On January 30, Daler Sharifov was arrested for two months by the decision of the court of Ismoili Somoni district of the city of Dushanbe. Abdumannon Sharifov told CABAR.asia that a criminal case was opened against his son under Article 189, Part 1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Tajikistan.

Article 189. Arousing National, Racial, Local or Religious Hostility Part 1.

The actions, which lead to arousing national, racial, local or religious hostility or dissension, humiliating national dignity, as well as propaganda of the exclusiveness of citizens by a sign of their relation to religion, national, racial, or local origin, if these actions were committed in public or using means of mass media are punishable by up to 5 years of restriction of liberty or imprisonment for the same period of time.

The representatives of State Committee for National Security, who arrived to the court with Sharifov, refused to speak with journalists and forbade taking photographs. When leaving the courtroom, Sharifov greeted the gathered colleagues with a smile. He was quickly put in a car and taken away.

Daler Sharifov’s lawyers also refused to provide details of the case. According to the lawyers, they signed the non-disclosure agreement.

On January 29, the reports on Sharifov’s case appeared. According to the sources, the reason for the journalist’s arrest was a book written by him in 2019, “Mohammed and Terrorism”.

The reports’ sources published several photos from this book and noted that Sharifov quoted the books of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian theologian, and Sayyid Qutb, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, organization banned in Tajikistan. However, two days later, on January 31, these reports were deleted.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Tajikistan. Photo: ozodi.org
The Prosecutor General’s Office of Tajikistan. Photo: ozodi.org

Only five days later, on February 1, the official statement on this case was made. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Tajikistan made an official statement on Khovar National Information Agency accusing Sharifov of publishing “more than 200 articles and notes of extremist content and nature aimed at inciting religious intolerance and promoting the superiority of one part of citizens in relation to others in terms of religious affiliation” over the period of 2013-2019.

“In particular, in June 2019, Sharipov illegally published a dissertation with a circulation of 100 copies in an underground printing house. According to the conclusion of the religious expertise, the dissertation was developed in the context of the movement Ikhwan-al-Muslimin, also known as Muslim Brotherhood, which is recognized as terrorist organization in many world’s countries. The dissertation is aimed at persuading young people to the ideology of jihad and also encourages them to commit terrorist and extremist acts,” the message states.

Mehmonshoh Sharifzoda. Photo from Facebook page
Mehmonshoh Sharifzoda. Photo from Facebook page

Tajik scientist Mehmonshoh Sharifzoda, who wrote the introduction for the book, told Radio Ozodi, “this book quotes already published or previously spoken words of famous writers of East and West about the identity of the Prophet of Islam, and nothing more”.

Previously, in Tajikistan, there were no cases of prosecution for citing others’ books. At the same time, according to the lawyer, the books of Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Sayyid Qutb are not mentioned in the list of banned literature of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The Reaction of Tajikistan’s Media Organizations and Civil Society  

Nuriddin Karshiboev. Photo: CABAR.asia
Nuriddin Karshiboev. Photo: CABAR.asia

The National Association of Independent Mass Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT) considers the behavior of law enforcement agencies during Daler Sharifov’s detention as unacceptable.

Nuriddin Karshiboev, Chairman at NANSMIT, in CABAR.asia interview said that this case concerned him. He believes that Daler Sharifov’s detention will adversely affect the freedom of speech and political pluralism in Tajikistan. Except for NANSMIT, no other media organizations expressed an opinion on the situation so far. The head of the Tajik Media Council, Bakhtiyor Hamdamov, told CABAR.asia that he would discuss this situation with organization members and only then express the opinion on the situation.

Oynihol Bobonazarova. Photo: CABAR.asia
Oynihol Bobonazarova. Photo: CABAR.asia

Some representatives of the country’s civil society also expressed concerns about the arrest. Oynihol Bobonazarova, well-known Tajik human rights activist, head of “Perspective+” organization, said that according to the law, the authorities should allow the detained person informing the relatives by phone. According to her, a lawyer should be immediately provided to the detained person.

Bobonazarova believes that Sharifov’s preliminary arrest was unnecessary, since the journalist, in her opinion, did not pose a danger to the public. The human rights activist also believes that if the authorities were confident in Sharifov’s guilt, they should have allowed journalists to attend the court, where the decision to arrest him was made.

Pressure on Media

According to international organizations’ reports, pressure on media in Tajikistan has intensified in recent years. Blocking websites access, invitations to authorities for a “conversation”, refusal to issue accreditations, threats of criminal cases opening are the methods of pressure.

Khayrullo Mirsaidov. Photo from Facebook page
Khayrullo Mirsaidov. Photo from Facebook page

In 2018, Khayrullo Mirsaidov, who stated in the media about officials’ extortion and abuse of powers, was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment in the Sughd region. Later, Mirsaidov was granted amnesty and then he migrated to Europe.

Notably, the charges brought against Mirsaidov included Article 189. Human rights activists previously said that this article is obscure and provides opportunities for officials to prosecute the critics of the government.

Mirsaidov posted a special video message on his Facebook page claiming that the authorities could not prove him guilty under this article. He believes that he managed to get liberty because of the wide public attention.

Rajab Mirzo. Photo from Facebook page
Rajab Mirzo. Photo from Facebook page

“Then, the global community supported me; thanks to them, today I am free and continue my journalistic activities,” Khayrullo Mirsaidov said.

Therefore, Mirsaidov considers it his duty to help other colleagues who face hardships.

“Daler Sharifov and his family need this indispensable support now,” Mirsaidov said.

According to famous Tajik journalist Rajab Mirzo, such charges could be brought against “any independent-minded member of Tajik society”. According to him, the presence of open-minded people in the “streets of Dushanbe indicates that tolerance is valued in the country”.

“Tolerate, if you are committed to the values of democracy and the rule of law,” the journalist said.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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