BBC reporter's trial to open in Tajikistan: official

15th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

The trial of a BBC reporter charged in Tajikistan with failing to disclose details about Islamist militants to authorities will start Tuesday, court sources told AFP.

Urunbay Usmonov, a correspondent for the BBC's Central Asia service, was arrested in June on suspicion of membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an outlawed group in the secular Muslim states of ex-Soviet Central Asia.

He was released on July 14 on a written pledge not to leave the capital before trial.

"The court proceedings will take place in an investigative unit and therefore will be closed," a court representative in the Sogd region of northern Tajikistan told AFP on Monday.

Tajik security forces have arrested hundreds of members of the organisation in the past decade in security sweeps around the restive Ferghana Valley near Uzbekistan.

The reporter's arrest caused an international outcry and was contested by both the BBC and relatives who said Usmonov was beaten in jail.

The rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders has said there was "little doubt" that Usmonov was arrested for his journalistic activities.

Tajikistan unexpectedly dropped the original charges in late June and instead accused the reporter of failing to provide the authorities with details he had learned through work about Hizb ut-Tahrir's activities.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded in the 1950s in the Middle East and advocates the establishment of an Islamic "caliphate" across Muslim Central Asia, although its members insist they believe this should be achieved by peaceful means.

It appeared in Central Asia around a decade ago and its attempts to recruit new members and its distribution of anti-government literature has worried the authorities, particularly in Tajikistan, the poorest of the former Soviet republics, with the population of 7.5 million.

The Tajik authorities fought Islamist militants in a civil war after the collapse of the Soviet Union and in mid-2010 the country saw a new spate of militant attacks in the restive Rasht Valley.

© 2011 AFP

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