Tajikistan: Independent journalist handed seven-year sentence in widening crackdown

Khurshed Fozilov. A photo from the journalist’s Facebook page.

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) regrets the conviction of journalist Khurshed Fozilov in Tajikistan on charges initiated in apparent retaliation for his journalistic activities and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. The Tajikistani government should stop targeting independent journalists and stifling freedom of expression in the country.

According to media reports, on 26 May 2023, a local court in the city of Penjikent in Tajikistan’s Sughd region sentenced Khurshed Fozilov to seven years’ imprisonment on charges of cooperating with banned organizations (under article 307 (3), part 2 of the Criminal Code). Fozilov, who was first detained by regional security services in Penjikent on 6 March 2023, has worked with both national and international media outlets, covering problems faced by ordinary people in his home region and frequently criticizing local authorities. He has also actively engaged on social media.

The verdict issued against Fozilov is highly troubling and forms part of a widening crackdown on independent journalists in Tajikistan. Since last year, at least seven journalists and bloggers have been imprisoned in the country on charges of spreading false information, involvement in extremist activities, and cooperation with banned organizations. Out of these, four journalists (Daleri Imomali, Abdullah Gurbati, Abdusuttor Pirmuhammadzoda, and Zavkibek Saidanimi) were convicted on charges initiated under the same Criminal Code article as Fozilov (article 307).  This pattern reinforces concerns about misuse of this Criminal Code article to penalise journalists for political purposes.

Tajikistan’s poor ratings in reputable global surveys such as the 2023 World Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders (153rd place out of 180) and the 2023 Freedom in the World survey published by Freedom House (7 scores out of 100) highlight the deteriorating state of the freedom of the press and expression in the country.

In a joint statement issued on Khurshed Fozilov’s case on 24 March 2023, IPHR together with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Civil Rights Defenders, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and Front Line Defenders called on the Tajikistani government to stop using criminal prosecution as a tool to suppress critical reporting and to uphold its international obligations to respect freedom of expression and the media. IPHR now reiterates these calls.