Imprisoned Tajik journalist Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda describes severe physical abuse and forced confessions in letter

Stockholm, October 25, 2022 – The Tajik authorities must provide a full and convincing response to allegations that imprisoned journalist Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda has been subjected to physical violence and severe ill-treatment, and that he and other imprisoned journalists have been coerced to record false confessions, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Tuesday.

On Friday, October 21, the Tajik service of the US Congress-funded television station Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, known locally as Radio Ozodi, published a letter written by imprisoned freelance journalist Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda alleging that police beat, electrocuted and forced him to record a false confession video.

The journalist’s brother, Abdukarim Pirmuhammadzoda, told CPJ by phone that the letter was in his brother’s handwriting and said the journalist confirmed his paternity during a meeting with relatives.

In the letter, reviewed by CPJ, Pirmuhammadzoda wrote that the mistreatment was so extreme that he “believed [he] wants to die.”

Radio Ozodi has received reports from multiple sources that six journalists currently detained in Tajikistan have been coerced into recording confession videos, according to a veteran journalist at the outlet who spoke to CPJ by phone on condition of anonymity. , citing fear of reprisals.

Radio Ozodi was unable to establish the circumstances under which these recordings were made, the journalist told CPJ, and CPJ was unable to further verify this claim.

“Allegations of serious ill-treatment, threats and coerced confessions by Tajik law enforcement, while not new, are deeply concerning and require a full and convincing response from the Tajik authorities” said Gulnoza Said, coordinator of CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program, in New York. York. “It is high time that the Tajik authorities stop exploiting the secrecy in which they have shrouded cases against journalists to so flagrantly and heinously violate their rights, and immediately release all unjustly imprisoned members of the press.

On July 9, police arrested Pirmuhammadzoda, a former state radio journalist who posted his views on social issues and free speech on his YouTube channel with 39,000 subscribers, as documented by CPJ. . Pirmuhammadzoda interviewed and appeared on the YouTube channels of imprisoned journalists Daler Imomali and Abdullo Ghurbati before their June 15 arrests and called for the couple’s release, which the journalist’s brother told CPJ was likely the reason for his prosecution .

On October 13, Pirmuhammadzoda’s lawyer told independent media Asia Plus that his client had confessed but denied that the guilty plea was made under duress. Pirmuhammadzoda’s lawyer did not respond to calls and messages from CPJ.

In his letter published on October 21, Pirmuhammadzoda said authorities had charged him under Article 307(3).2 of Tajikistan’s criminal code for “participation in prohibited extremist organizations”, which carries a five to eight years in prison.

The journalist called the accusations “false and fabricated” and said much of the evidence against him was based on social media engagement after police confiscated his phone.

Pirmuhammadzoda also detailed the police officers’ mistreatment and threats against him and his family in the days following his arrest. Pirmuhammadzoda told his family members that police had threatened to rape them or bring criminal charges against them if he did not confess, his brother told CPJ.

In the letter, the journalist said officers forced him to read a script on camera, in which he admits to being a revolutionary and being in contact with an exiled leader of an opposition political party.

Several human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Committee, have expressed concern over the alleged prevalence of torture and ill-treatment of detainees to extract confessions in Tajikistan.

In October, Radio Ozodi reported that video-journalist Abdullo Ghurbati, sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for participating in banned organizations, had been coerced and tricked by police into recording a confession video with promises to release.

In August, Radio Ozodi reported that another detained journalist, Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, retracted a televised confession during her ongoing trial, saying it was made under duress.

A source close to the family of Zavqibek Saidamini, another former state media journalist arrested after demanding the release of Inomali and Ghurbati, told CPJ on condition of anonymity that the family had not seen him. nor heard from since his arrest in July and that she feared that he had been subjected to physical and psychological pressure.

CPJ could not independently confirm information about the detained journalists’ confession videos or alleged pressure from Saidamini. CPJ’s calls to lawyers for the detained journalists went unanswered or were unsuccessful.

The lawyers reportedly signed non-disclosure agreements with Tajik authorities, and the journalists’ trials were held behind closed doors, according to Radio Ozodi. Relatives of journalists contacted by CPJ said they had no information about the coerced confessions or declined to speak, citing fear of reprisals.

CPJ emailed Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry and Attorney General’s Office for comment, but received no response. A representative of the attorney general’s office told Radio Ozodi today that the office has not received any official complaints about allegations of mistreatment of detained journalists, but will investigate complaints if they do. .