Asia-Pacific

Tajik court finds BBC reporter guilty of complicity

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Media captionUrunboy Usmonov: "Whatever I have done has been in accordance with journalistic guidelines"

A BBC reporter has been found guilty in Tajikistan of complicity in the activities of a banned Islamist organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Urunboy Usmonov was sentenced to three years in jail, but the judge granted him an amnesty and ordered his release.

Mr Usmonov's arrest in June sparked international condemnation - the BBC has strongly condemned the verdict.

The Tajik authorities accused Mr Usmonov of failing to provide details of Hizb ut-Tahrir members to police.

He had originally been accused of being a member of the outlawed Islamist group, but this was later changed to a charge of "complicity" in Hizb ut-Tahrir's "extremist activities".

Mr Usmonov, 60, said he had simply been meeting with Hizb ut-Tahrir members while working on reports about the group.

After his release, he told the BBC's Uzbek Service he would appeal against his conviction.

"During the court hearings they could not provide any evidence against me," he said. "I am innocent."

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Media captionBBC Director of Global News Peter Horrocks: "The BBC strongly condemns this verdict"

"A witness during the court case said that he saw signs of torture on my face. The court ignored these testimonies.

"I did my job. I am journalist and that is it. I am definitely going to appeal to a higher court."

His lawyer, Fayzinisso Vokhidova, said the reporter had been "convicted for his journalistic activity".

He added that the court saw Mr Usmonov as being guilty of "giving information to BBC radio for propaganda of Hizb ut-Tahrir activities".

Abuse concerns

In a statement, the BBC said that "no evidence of wrong doing whatsoever emerged during the trial, and that only a complete exoneration of our correspondent is acceptable".

Peter Horrocks, the BBC's director of Global News, said the corporation would continue to support Mr Usmonov, who has worked as a reporter for the BBC for 10 years.

"We hope that the appeal process will lead to his reputation as a highly respected writer and journalist being restored," he said.

"We also intend to press for answers over the torture and mistreatment Urunboy suffered while in custody, and to raise real concerns about shortcomings in the legal process."

When questioned during his trial, Mr Usmonov told the court that he had been subjected to beatings and security officers burning his arms with cigarettes.

He also said he had been forced to sign a confession which had been dictated to him.

Media freedom 'cornerstone'

The British Foreign Office welcomed the decision to grant amnesty to Mr Usmonov.

But David Lidington, Minister for Europe, said, "However, we have strong reservations about the ruling against Mr Usmonov and his sentencing. We also have reservations about the conduct of the trial.

"We have raised Mr Usmonov's case with the Tajik authorities at senior levels both in London and Dushanbe on numerous occasions," he said.

"We remain concerned by a number of recent defamation cases being brought against journalists in Tajikistan, which could result in their imprisonment," Mr Lidington added.

"The freedom of the media should be a cornerstone of any modern democratic state.

"We call on the Tajik authorities to uphold the internationally recognised norms of journalism," he said.

"Journalists should be free to go about their work throughout the world without fear of imprisonment or reprisals."

The trial was held in the northern Tajik city of Khujand.

Four other defendants were also found guilty and sentenced to long prison terms.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an Islamic organisation which has swept across Central Asia over the past decade, attracting thousands of young recruits.

It is openly critical of the Tajik regime and is outlawed in the country.

It does not advocate violence but wants to overthrow the present leadership to establish an Islamic state across the Middle East and Central Asia.

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