The libel trial has begun in Dushanbe
of three independent publications, in a case international rights activists say
is part of a crackdown on press freedom ahead of upcoming elections on February 28.
Three judges, including two from the Supreme Court, brought the libel charges
against the weeklies Asia-Plus
, and Ozodagon
("Free People") for
their coverage of a press conference on corruption and bias in the judicial
In mid-January, the journalists reported on the press conference in which a
lawyer said the judges -- Fakhriddin Dodometov, Nur Nurov, and Ulughbek
Mamadshoev -- had sentenced a group of 33 businessmen from the northern city of
Isfara to long prison terms despite weak evidence of their crimes.
The judges maintain that the printed allegations against them are false, and
sued the papers for 5.5 million somoni ($1.26 million) in damages.
Some 50 journalists, NGO representatives, and other were present near the
courtroom today to show their support for the newspapers.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service ahead of the trial, the editors of
the three newspapers and their lawyer said the judges were merely seeking
monetary gain through the claim. They also said the judges should have asked
for their responses to be printed before taking legal action -- a step required
by Tajik media law.
Nuriddin Karshiboyev, the head of the National Association of Independent Media
of Tajikistan, told RFE/RL that that the lawsuit was indicative of a recent
push by officials to shrink press freedoms and encourage journalists to censor
Earlier this month, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders
(RSF) criticized Tajik authorities for "harassing the media" ahead of the
February 28 parliamentary elections.
In their statement, RSF also said, "there is clearly an all-out drive to
intimidate news media and get them to censor their coverage of state
Judge Mamadshoev, one of the three judges claiming libel in today's trial, told
RFE/RL's Tajik Service that he filed the lawsuit as a private citizen -- not as
a representative of the Supreme Court.
The trial was adjourned and is scheduled to resume in mid-March.
It comes in the wake of other libel suits brought by officials against Tajik
In late January, a court fined the weekly Paykon
("Arrowhead") 300,000 somoni
($69,000) in a libel suit brought by Tajikstandart, a government agency that
monitors the quality of imported goods.
The Tajik Agriculture Ministry has also brought a libel suit against theMillat
("Nation") newspaper, in which it is demanding 1 million somoni
($229,000) in damages.
That trial is schedule for late March.
RFE/RL's Tajik Service and O wire contributed to this report.