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Amnesty International Urges Tajikistan to Release Journalist Amid Torture Allegations
WASHINGTON - July 7 - The Tajikistani authorities must immediately release a BBC journalist, apparently held solely for his writing work, who is alleged to have been tortured or ill-treated while in detention, said Amnesty International.
Urunboy Usmonov was arrested on June 13 and has been charged with participation in the banned Islamic movement Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
State security officials said on Wednesday that, despite earlier allegations made by the Interior Ministry, Urunboy Usmonov was not accused of being a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir but that their investigation was still focusing on his involvement in the organization.
He is being held in pre-trial detention in the northern city of Khujand.
Family members reported that Urunboy Usmonov appeared to have been tortured or ill-treated while in detention. A BBC colleague who was allowed to visit him in detention said that he appeared "frail mentally and psychologically."
"Amnesty International considers that the charges against Urunboy Usmonov have been fabricated purely as punishment for his journalistic work and for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia.
"We consider him to be a prisoner of conscience. He should be released immediately and unconditionally," said Dalhuisen. "The authorities must also conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into the torture allegations and bring those responsible to justice."
Urunboy Usmonov did not come home from work on June 13. He briefly returned the next day with state security officers who searched the house.
It was then that relatives witnessed the injuries on his neck that they believe were as a result of torture or other forms of ill-treatment while in detention.
On June 15 an Interior Ministry spokesperson said that Urunboy Usmonov was suspected of being a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir since 2009, and of conducting extremist propaganda using the internet.
Urunboy Usmonov's lawyer told Amnesty International on July 2 that the investigation had found no evidence of Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership.
Today, officials from the State Committee on National Security of Tajikistan (SCNS) told the BBC that he was not accused of Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership, but that the investigation was focusing on his involvement in the organization and on failing to inform the authorities of his contacts with it.
Urunboy Usmonov had no access to a lawyer for a week after his arrest. Since June 14 his family has been able to see him only once for half an hour in the presence of officials.
Hamid Ismailov of the BBC Central Asian Service met Urunboy Usmonov for ten minutes and reported on June 28: "I was expecting to see a physically frail man but he was frail mentally and psychologically as well and that was very difficult to see. He was talking to me but his eyes were fixed on the security officers."
Amnesty International has campaigned against human rights violations in Tajikistan such as torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers, impunity for torturers, violence against women and restrictions of freedom of speech.
In recent years independent media outlets and journalists have faced criminal and civil law suits for criticizing the government.