On July 14, Tajik authorities released Urunboy Usmonov, a local correspondent for the BBC’s Uzbek service, who spent one month in pre-trial detention on suspicion of belonging to a banned Islamic group. It appears that the unusual publicity and widespread international criticism generated by Usmonov’s case were major factors behind the government’s decision to free him.
Usmonov, 59, was detained in the northern city of Khujand on June 13, shortly after Tajik police arrested two alleged leaders of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) cells in the country. HuT is an Islamic movement that has been banned in Tajikistan since 2001, mainly because its members are openly critical of the government and call for the replacement of secular states in Central Asia with an Islamic caliphate, albeit through non-violent means (EDM, July 12).
As the journalist was taken into custody, Tajik security agencies said he was suspected of HuT membership. A media statement by the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) announced that the “initial investigation, based on witness testimony and evidence, confirms Usmonov’s membership in Hizb-ut-Tahrir.” The GKNB alleged that Usmonov was in contact with HuT leaders both in the country and abroad, and supported the production and distribution of “printed material, calling for the violent seizure of power and change in the constitutional design of Tajikistan” (www.khovar.tj, June 18).