A court in Dushanbe has fined a journalist with Ozodagon online news agency for allegedly abetting and failing to report a criminal act.
Sources familiar with the case told EurasiaNet.org that Mijgona Halimova was ordered to pay 25,000 somoni ($2,900), a crippling amount in Tajikistan.
The journalist has been informally warned against divulging any specific details about the case in public, however, on pain of an eventual custodial sentence.
In the absence of precise charges, there is little certainty about whether the case was warranted, although it is probably no coincidence that Halimova was until recently a reporter for a newspaper owned by banned political party.
Halimova has said she will not be appealing the verdict as she believes it is unlikely to bring about any positive outcome.
Until 2015, Halimova worked as a writer for the Najot newspaper, the house organ of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, or IRPT. Her troubles began when the authorities designated the party an extremist organization and went on to jail almost its entire leadership.
As if that were not enough, Halimova has provoked the ire of the security services for her insistence on wearing the hijab, including at government functions. The hijab is a sore topic for the authorities, which strongly discourage its adoption in public and most certainly at official events.
Writing in the state-run Tajikistan newspaper, the head of women and family affair committee, Idigul Kosimzoda, singled out Halimova for criticism, referring to as the “Ozodagon reporter who wears the hijab and asks questions that frankly throw into doubt the fact that she is a journalist at all.”
Halimova appealed to local rights groups for support in securing legal aid, but to no avail. Nuriddin Karshibayev, the head of the National Association of Independent Mass Media, and Abdumalik Kodirov, the local representative for Internews, chipped in toward her legal costs, however.
Fellow journalists have now organized a whip-round to help pay off the fine.
The campaign against independent media and journalists has been ongoing for more than a year.
Last year, one of the few independent news outlets remaining, TojNews, and its sister newspaper Nigoh closed down in the face of mounting pressure. In February, the government issued a decree requiring local news outlets to secure a permit from the State Committee for National Security, the successor agency to the KGB, in order to be able to successfully complete the annual re-registration procedure.
According to varying estimates, 20 or more journalists have left the country over the past over concerns for their wellbeing.