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Cablegate: Newspapers Stand Firm in Court, Embassy Issues Statement

VZCZCXRO4143
PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDH RUEHGI RUEHJS RUEHKUK RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHPW
RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHTRO RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHDBU #0229/01 0571149
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 261149Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1308
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0470
RUCNISL/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE
RUEHDBU/AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE 2817

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DUSHANBE 000229

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KISL TI
SUBJECT: NEWSPAPERS STAND FIRM IN COURT, EMBASSY ISSUES STATEMENT

REF: DUSHANBE 156

DUSHANBE 00000229 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In preliminary court hearings in Dushanbe,
editors in chief of four independent newspapers called libel
lawsuits filed against them by government officials
"groundless". On February 23, representatives of Asia-Plus,
Farazh, Ozodagon and an attorney, Solijon Juraev, appeared in
court to respond to a $1.2 million lawsuit filed by three judges
claiming defamation of their "honor and dignity". The
newspapers were sued after publishing Juraev's allegations,
backed up by a secretly made audio recording, that the judges
convicted clients on orders of high-ranking officials. The
Editor-in-chief of Millat appeared in court on February 25 to
respond to the Ministry of Agriculture's demand for $230,000
after Millat published an editorial, citing a government report,
calling it "The Most Corrupt Ministry in Government". On
February 24, the Embassy demarched the government on the
newspaper cases and released a statement expressing concern
about the judicial actions against the press. End Summary.

ASIA-PLUS, OZADAGON, FARAZH: LAWYER WARNS HE HAS MORE TAPES

2. (SBU) Emboffs observed an open preliminary hearing in which
editors-in-chief of Asia Plus, Ozodagon, and Farazh presented
their response to a libel lawsuit filed by three Tajik judges
(Reftel). The courtroom was packed with journalists and
observers from NGOs, international organizations, and Embassies.
The judges reiterated their claims that Juraev and the
newspapers slandered their "honor and dignity" and refused to
drop their demands for 5 million somoni ($1.2 million) in
damages. The judges sued Juraev and the newspapers after they
reported on Juraev's presentation of a secret audio recording of
Judge Nur Nurov admitting he issued lengthy prison sentences to
31 Isfara residents on orders from the Chair of the Supreme
Court. Representatives of the three newspapers called the
charges "baseless".

3. (SBU) Juraev, also being sued, demanded to know why the
Prosecutor General's Office has taken no action to investigate
his allegations against the three judges. "These are serious
charges that I made, but here I and the newspapers sit in court
to defend ourselves, while they are asking for 5 million somoni
($1.2 million)." Juraev warned that he had a full five tapes of
Judge Nurov. He threatened to release even more damning
recordings, including Nurov discussing President Rahmon's
involvement in the "Isfara Affair" (Reftel) unless the charges
against him and the newspapers are dropped. "According to Tajik
law, no one can slander the President. Yet I have a recording
of Judge Nurov stating that the President is involved in
corruption. If the judges do not drop their case, I will
release the tape and Judge Nurov will have to answer for his
statements."

4. (SBU) The judge announced he would set the first official
court date after March 1. The Ambassador plans to attend the
hearing as an observer. The judges may drop their charges prior
to that date. The newspapers have indicated they would like the
case to go away quietly if the judges agree to drop their suit.

ANOTHER LAWSUIT AGAINST ASIA-PLUS?

5. (SBU) On February 24, Asia-Plus reported that it is subject
to another lawsuit, this time for causing emotional distress.
The newspaper, citing the Interior Ministry, reported that a man
was sentenced to life in prison for robbing a money exchange
employee. The man's mother, herself a former Ministry of
Interior employee, said that her son was actually sentenced to
25 years in prison. She claims she was distressed after reading
the Asia-Plus article and is suing for 12,000 somoni ($2,700).
The Interior Ministry denies that it informed Asia-Plus that the
man was given a life sentence.

MILLAT: "A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA"

6. (SBU) On February 25, representatives of independent weekly

DUSHANBE 00000229 002.2 OF 002


newspaper Millat appeared at court to meet a representative of
the Ministry of Agriculture to respond to its $230,000 libel
lawsuit. Millat had published an article calling the Ministry
the "Most Corrupt Ministry in Government", based on a government
report citing irregularities in the Ministry's financing.
(NOTE: Millat editor-in-chief Adolat Umarova told Public
Affairs staff that much of the Millat article was reprinted
verbatim from an article published by BBC Persian Service. She
does not intend to reveal that her article was reprinted from
BBC during the court case. Tajik journalists regularly print
uncited articles from the international press. END NOTE.)

7. (SBU) Umarova was not permitted to attend the closed meeting
between her lawyer, the judge, and a Ministry representative.
Several dozen observers, including Emboffs, waited outside the
courtroom. Umarova said the Ministry indicated that it wanted
to reach a "mutual reconciliation" with Millat to end the court
case, but that she was unwilling to come to any agreement with
the Ministry. "The current cases are a matter of life or death
for independent media" in Tajikistan. Umarova filed a
counter-suit against the Ministry of Agriculture asking for one
somoni compensation for damaging Millat's reputation through its
lawsuit. The judge set March 11 as the date for the first
hearing of the Ministry's suit.

EMBASSY DELIVERS DEMARCHE, ISSUES STATEMENT

8. (SBU) On February 24, Pol Chief delivered a demarche
expressing concern about the lawsuits to the Head of the MFA
North America Department, Farhod Salim. Salim said he would
pass the demarche to Foreign Minister Zarifi that morning.
Later that day, the Embassy issued a press release noting that
"the lawsuits threaten to force these newspapers to cease
publication, which would be a serious blow to freedom of the
press in Tajikistan." The press release was picked up by Tajik
media websites and reprinted in the government's "Khobar" news
service. Local media freedom advocates expressed appreciation
for the Embassy's statement of support.

OPPOSITION POLITICIAN TURNS THE TABLES, SUES GOVERNMENT PAPER

9. (SBU) On February 22, Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan
Chairman Rahmatullo Zoyirov announced he would sue the ruling
People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan's newspaper, Minbari
Khalk, for defamation, demanding 500,000 somoni ($113,000) in
compensation. Zoyirov, a tough regime critic, said the Minbari
Khalk had published articles, under pseudonyms, accusing him of
being a spy for Uzbekistan.

10. (SBU) COMMENT: Government officials, used to bullying the
media over the last few years, may not have expected such a
vocal response to their lawsuits against the press. The Embassy
will continue to raise this issue with the Tajik government and
encourage them to advise their officials to stop using the
judiciary as a mechanism to harass journalists. Unfortunately,
many officials still have the old Soviet view that media
primarily exists to promote state policies. On a brighter note,
the cases seem to have brought the Tajik media community
together and raised awareness of media freedom issues. Post
will continue to report on developments in their court cases.
END COMMENT
GROSS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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