Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

Tajik Journalist Facing Extremism Charges

Ahead of parliamentary elections, Tajik authorities detained a journalist for publishing what it says are more than 200 articles “containing extremist content.”

Catherine Putz
Tajik Journalist Facing Extremism Charges
Credit: Illustration by Catherine Putz

In late January, journalist Daler Sharipov was detained in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. According to the AFP, the state prosecutor put out a press release late Saturday which stated that Sharipov had been detained for publishing “over 200 articles and commentaries containing extremist content” between 2013 and 2019.

Sharipov is a well-known Tajik journalist who often covered topics the government considered sensitive. As Eurasianet reported, he had worked for Ozodagon, an independent newspaper that closed in 2019 “after years of harassment and intimidation.”

In February 2010, for example, Ozodagon was among several Tajik media outlets on the receiving end of a libel lawsuit just ahead of parliamentary elections, held on February 28 that year. 

Sharipov’s detention also comes weeks ahead of parliamentary polls, scheduled for March 1.

The upcoming parliamentary polls are the first since 2015, when Tajikistan’s (and the region’s) only religious political party was pushed out of government. The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) had held two seats, of 63, in the lower house of the Tajik Parliament, the Assembly of Representatives since the 2000 election. The 2015 poll, however, marked not just the end of the party’s official government role but the start of a significant shift that has undercut the terms of the peace treaty that ended the Tajik Civil War in 1997.

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The IRPT was part of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). As I summarized in a 2015 article:

Tajikistan’s five-year civil war devastated the country. The June 1997 peace accord, achieved after the deaths of between 50,000 and 100,000 people, seemed for a time to be a model of reconciliation. The government, gracious in victory, agreed to lift bans on the parties that made up the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), lift mass media restrictions, committed to reforming the country’s power structure, promised to reserve 30 percent of government posts for UTO members, and pledged to issue amnesty “for persons who took part in the civil conflict.”

After 18 years, few of the government’s promises seem to have held.

By the end of 2015, the IRPT had been officially banned as an extremist group and its leadership was on trial. In discussing the group, this article could probably be categorized as containing extremist materials should the proper authorities be so motivated.

The state prosecutor did not specify which of Sharipov’s articles were problematic.

According to the AFP report citing the state prosecutor, Sharipov had, in addition to the aforementioned articles, “also published 100 copies of a text affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that was banned in Tajikistan in 2006.”

Sharipov ‘s lawyer, Abdurahmon Sharipov (no relation) had told media previously that a Dushanbe court had decided to put the journalist in pre-trial detention for two months. Sharipov, the lawyer, said at the time (before the state prosecutor’s statement) that Sharipov, the journalist, was suspected of “inciting ethnic, racial, and religious discord.”

Although many of his colleagues left Tajikistan after Ozodagon’s closure, Eurasianet reported, Sharipov remained in Tajikistan and continued work as a freelancer covering human rights violations, particularly of religious freedoms.

Tajikistan has long ranked poorly on various measures of political, press and religious freedoms.