Tajikistan convicts but amnesties BBC reporter: lawyer

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A court in Tajikistan on Friday sentenced a BBC reporter to three years in prison in a case that raised alarm over press freedom in the ex-Soviet state but immediately granted him an amnesty, his lawyer said.

The court in Khujand in the northern Sogd region convicted Urunbay Usmonov for spreading "the propaganda" of banned Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, his lawyer told AFP.

With concern growing over media freedoms in the impoverished state, a second Tajik journalist who accused local authorities of corruption was fined more than 7,000 dollars in a separate case.

The prosecutors had demanded a five-year sentence and amnesty for Usmonov, a journalist working for the British broadcaster's Central Asia service.

Usmonov, 60, was arrested in June on suspicion of membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group outlawed in all of the ex-Soviet Central Asia region.

"The reporter was convicted for his journalist activity," said Fayzinisso Vokhidova, Usmonov's lawyer, adding that the court found Usmonov guilty of "giving information to the BBC radio for propaganda of Hizb ut-Tahrir activities."

Usmonov plans to appeal the verdict, Vokhidova told AFP.

The reporter, along with four other men, was originally charged with trying to overthrow the constitutional order by force and create an Islamic state in Central Asia which would be governed by sharia law.

Bowing to pressure from the BBC and international media rights groups, Usmonov's prosecutors downgraded the charges.

Usmonov however was amnestied under a law adopted by the parliament in August and signed by President Emomali Rakhmon ahead of the Central Asian nation's independence anniversary on September 9.

In the second case, the Tajik authorities demanded a 16-year sentence for Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov, a journalist working for the independent Nuri Zindagi weekly, who was charged with inciting ethnic tensions, insulting officials and defamation.

Ismoilov, 51, was fined 35,000 sonomi (7,430 dollars, 5,410 euros) and released after a 10-month detention, the head of the Tajik media association Nuriddin Karshiboyev told AFP.

The regional court in the Sogd region also ordered the journalist to "refrain" from journalistic activity for three years, he said.

© 2011 AFP

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