Tajikistan releases BBC reporter pending trial

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Tajik authorities on Thursday released a local BBC reporter pending his trial on charges of failing to disclose details about Islamist militants to the state.

The BBC's Central Asia service correspondent Urunbay Usmonov was set free on a written pledge not to leave the capital before trial, a Tajik prosecution official said. No trial date has been announced.

"He is very glad to be home," Usmonov's son Oibek told AFP.

"This is a great joy to us all after all we have been through."

The 60-year-old reporter was arrested in June on suspicion of membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir -- a group outlawed throughout the secular Muslim states of ex-Soviet Central Asia.

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 created 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 said there was "little doubt" that Usmonov was arrested for his journalistic activities.

Usmonov has previously covered sensitive Tajik issues including the construction of a controversial dam.

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.

Prosecutors said earlier in the week they had closed their investigation and presented all evidence personally to President Emomali Rakhmon for review.

A local analyst said authorities in the ex-Soviet Union's poorest republic were growing increasingly worried that the case could hurt their international standing at a time of heavy economic dependence on the West.

This "can seriously damage Tajikistan's reputation on the international arena", said Sukhrob Sharipov of the government-linked Centre for Strategic Studies.

"It has moved beyond the realm of jurisprudence to one of politics, with the case now being overseen personally by the republic's President Emomali Rakhmov," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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