Tajik freelance journalist Khurshed Fozilov, who was detained by officers of the State Committee for National Security (SCNS)’s office in the Tajik northern city of Panjakent on March 6 and to the constitutional order in Tajikistan through the media and or the Internet (Article 307 (2) of Tajikistan’s Penal Code), says he was forced to testify against himself.

His defense lawyer, Ms. Dilafrouz Samadova, noted this on her Facebook page on April 7.  According to her, Fozilov said that he did not commit the crime. 

“As Fozilov said, he did not carry out work against the government and all his work was carried out in accordance with applicable law,” Ms. Samadova writes on her Facebook page.   

Khurshed Fozilov reportedly applied to the Sughd chief prosecutor’s office through his defense lawyer with a complaint about illegal detention, violation of his right to privacy and coercion to testify against himself.  

His brother Khoushbakht Fozilov had earlier told Asia-Plus that criminal proceedings had been instituted against Khurshed under the provisions of Article 307 (2) of Tajikistan’s Penal Code – public calls for forcible changes to the constitutional order in the country through the media and or the Internet.  

On what basis the case was initiated against him under this article is still unknown.  This article provides for imprisonment for the term of between three and eight years.

International human rights organizations have urged Tajik authorities to release Tajik freelance journalist.  

In a statement released on March 17, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Tajik authorities should release journalist Khurshed Fozilov and stop prosecuting journalists in retaliation for their work.

“Coming just months after Tajik authorities sentenced several journalists to lengthy prison terms without making public any compelling evidence against them, journalist Khurshed Fozilov seems trapped in the same cycle,” said Ms. Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York.  “Tajik authorities must disclose the exact reason for Fozilov’s arrest or immediately release him, alongside all other imprisoned journalists.”

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC), International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) and Front Line Defenders (FLD) released a joint statement on March 24, noting that “the government of Tajikistan should immediately release independent journalist and human rights defender Khurshed Fozilov and cease the reprisals against independent journalism in the country.”  

A report released by the CPJ on December 14 last year says arrest and conviction of independent journalists and bloggers makes Tajikistan the leading jailer in Central Asia.  The report, in particular, notes that the prisoners were tried secretly behind closed doors in detention centers, not courts, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms amid allegations of torture.

Tajikistan was ranked 152nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2022 World Press Freedom Index, and Not Free in Freedom House's 2022 Global Freedom Status, with a score of 8/100.

Last month, Tajikistan was downgraded from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. ‘Closed’ is the worst rating a country can receive by the CIVICUS Monitor.