A court in Tajikistan has found a local journalist guilty of “insulting” three state-appointed intellectuals and ordered that she pay them 30,000 somoni (over 6,000 US dollars) in “moral damage”. The court has also ruled that Asia-Plus, one of the country's few independent newspapers, must apologize for publishing the “insulting” content.
Olga Tutubalina, an editor and columnist of Asia-Plus, wrote a column [ru] in May 2013, criticizing the members of the intelligentsia for their “cozy relationship” with the government of President Emomali Rahmon. In that column, Tutubalina quoted the first Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin who had once referred to intellectuals in the service of the state as “shit”.
A number of state-appointed members of the intelligentsia and creative unions then chose to feel insulted. Shortly after Tutubalina wrote her column, three individuals, the Academy of Science, and unions of writers, artists, composers, and architects filed a joint lawsuit against the journalist. On February 25, after almost a year-long trial, a court in Dushanbe ruled in their favor.
The initial reaction to the verdict among Twitter users was one of shock, disbelief, and anger.
Новость: Суд огласил решение по делу «интеллигенция против «Азия-Плюс» http://t.co/G90gfogdec
— ASIA-Plus NewsAgency (@AsiaPlusTj) February 25, 2014
News: The court has ruled in “Intelligentsia vs. Asia-Plus”
Tajikistan: Journalist Fined for Criticizing State-Sponsored Artists http://t.co/OC8EVEMUO0
— EurasiaNet (@EurasiaNet) February 25, 2014
Tajik journalist loses lawsuit for calling nation's ass-licking intelligentsia “shit.” http://t.co/kUEz9mHVQ7
— David Trilling (@dtrilling) February 25, 2014
The United States Embassy in Dushanbe has issued a brief statement criticizing the verdict. US Envoy tweeted:
The judgment against newspaper «Asia Plus» and its editor Olga Tutubalina will have a chilling effect on freedom of the press in Tajikistan
— Susan Elliott (@AmbElliott) February 25, 2014
— Iskandar Yunus (@iskandariyunus) February 25, 2014
Позор Таджикистану! Позор всей его судебной системе! Позор всему тому говну, которое молча наблюдало за процессом против Тутубалиной.
— Бачаи Сако (@BachaiSako) February 25, 2014
Shame on Tajikistan! Shame on its entire judicial system! Shame on all that shit which watched Tutubalina's trial in silence.
Ольгу топят, здесь все понятно. Но есть и плюс: теперь мы точно знаем, кто у нас говно, и суд это подтвердил.
— Джура Охотник (@jurathehunter) February 25, 2014
It is clear that Olga [Tutubalina] is being drowned. But there is one advantage: we now know for sure who shit is [in the country]. The court has confirmed it.
Overall, there is little doubt among social media users in Tajikistan that the journalists's trial was part of a broader campaign to silence critical journalists and independent media. Few netizens believe that the court's verdict was fair or impartial. After all, judges in Tajikistan are frequently compared to prostitutes catering to those in power.