In a statement delivered in Vienna, Ms. Michele Siders, Chargé d’Affaires, the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, noted on April 12 that the United States is deeply concerned by the April 5 extension of the pre-trial detention of journalist Khairullo Mirsaidov, who was arrested last December. 

“This arrest reflects a pattern of increasing pressure on media freedom in Tajikistan, which has forced a number of journalists to leave the country and led to the closure of several independent media outlets. We find these trends concerning and urge Tajikistan to adhere to its OSCE commitments on freedom of expression, including for members of the media, and to its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“We urge Tajikistan to ensure that Mr. Mirsaidov’s case is resolved promptly and in accordance with its obligations under the ICCPR to provide the required procedural and substantive protections in its criminal process, and to fully implement its obligations concerning freedom of expression, including by the media.”

Recall, at the request of the Sughd regional prosecutor’s office, pretrial detention of Tajik stand-up comedian and independent journalist Khairullo Mirsaidov was extended by another two months on April 5.    

Mirsaidov’s pretrial detention was reportedly extended for two more months at the request of the prosecutor with a view to conducting a “full and objective investigation” of the case.

Khairullo Mirsaidov was put under custody on December 5 and charges of misappropriate of state funds (Article 245, Part 4 of Tajikistan’s Penal Code), inciting national racial, regional or religious enmity (Article 189, Part 2), document forgery (Article 340, Part 1) and false denunciation (Article 346, Part 2) were officially brought against him on December 8. 

The charges brought against Mirsaidov carry up to a total of 21 years in prison under Tajikistan’s Penal Code.

Khairullo Mirsaidov in November last year applied to the president, prosecutor-general and Sughd governor, asking them to pay attention to problems facing the Khujand-based KVN team because of some corrupt officials in the Sughd province.  Mirsaidov publicly stated that Olim Zohidzoda, the head of the Sughd directorate for youth and sports affairs, demanded a US$1,000 bribe.

Mirsaidov failed to produce evidence to support his application against Zohidzoda.  Zohidzoda has filed a counterclaim against Mirsaidov accusing him of defamation.

Mirsaidov is an independent journalist and a former correspondent of the Dushanbe-based Asia-Plus news agency and Germany's Deutsche Welle radio.

He is also the leader of the Tajik national KVN comedy team, a stand-up comedy competition which originated among university students in the Soviet Union and is still popular in many post-Soviet states.

Mirsaidov’s case has drawn international attention, with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) releasing a statement in December calling on Tajikistan to release Mirsaidov and drop all charges against him.

Amnesty International (AI) on January 25 urged the Tajik authorities to “immediately” release Khairullo Mirsaidov, who has been in pretrial detention for more than a month.  Amnesty International said in its statement that “Khairullo Mirsaidov is a prisoner of conscience who is being punished solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.”