Abdullo Gurbati, a journalist for Asia-Plus news agency, was left bloodied after being assaulted by unknown individuals on May 11.

The reporter had recently been the target of a smear campaign by online trolls understood to operate at the behest of the security services, which has for decades taken the lead in repressing non-government media, activists and opposition politicians.

Asia-Plus said in a report on the attack that it took place at around 9:30 p.m. near Gurbati’s apartment in Dushanbe. The reporter tried to get treatment for his injuries at three clinics, but was turned away from each one on the grounds that they are already swamped with coronavirus patients.

Gurbati, 23, has over the past two months focused much of his work on mounting evidence that Tajikistan was confronting a coronavirus outbreak that the government was staunchly denying up until April 30. One of his on-the-street video reports saw him questioning members of the public about whether they were concerned about the incipient health crisis and whether they were aware of best practices for avoiding contracting COVID-19.

This coverage earned him the attention of government-linked online trolls, who accused him on social media websites of taking money from foreign-based opposition groups and described him as a traitor to the nation. One particularly crass video uploaded to the internet – which included, among other things, a snippet of the World Health Organization’s country representative validating Tajik government insistence that the country was coronavirus-free – showed Gurbati’s face crudely photoshopped onto a virus.

Gurbati had previously told colleagues that he has received phone calls from operatives with the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, the successor agency to the KGB, threatening him with the prospect of criminal prosecution.