BBC reporter sentenced for links to Islamist group

AP News
Posted: Oct 14, 2011 12:59 PM
BBC reporter sentenced for links to Islamist group

A court in Tajikistan sentenced a BBC reporter to three years in jail Friday over links to a banned radical Islamic group, but immediately released him after granting amnesty.

The Sughd regional court found BBC Central Asia service journalist Uronboi Usmonov guilty of failing to provide authorities with information about alleged criminal activities planned by Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The BBC World Service rejects all suggestions that Usmonov was directly involved with Hizb ut-Tahrir and says that his dealings with the group were linked exclusively to his activities as a journalist.

Usmonov was arrested in June in the northern Sughd region on suspicion of belonging to the group. But after condemnation by the U.S. government and the European Union, prosecutors downgraded that charge to failing to bring forward information to the authorities about the organization.

The BBC World Service condemned Friday's guilty verdict.

"We will continue to support (Urunboi) and hope that the appeal process will lead to his reputation as a highly respected writer and journalist being restored," said Peter Horrocks, director of BBC Global News.

The journalist's family reported that he went missing on June 13, but then returned home a day later accompanied by security service officials. Family members and colleagues said he appeared to have been physically mistreated.

"We ... intend to press for answers over the torture and mistreatment (Urunboi) suffered while in custody and to raise real concerns about shortcomings in the legal process," Horrocks said.

Authorities in Tajikistan, on Afghanistan's northern border, have grown alarmed over the persisting popularity of radical strands of Islam and have taken increasingly strict measures to stamp them out. But government critics say heavy-handed efforts to arrest members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and other similar organizations have only served to drive the groups further underground.