Human rights groups have called on diplomats and representatives of international organizations to press Tajik authorities “to unconditionally set aside the conviction against a respected journalist convicted on politically motivated charges.”

Twelve watchdogs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), said on August 13 that the diplomats and representatives of these groups should attend the appeal hearing for the journalist, Khairullo Mirsaidov on August 15, 2018 in Khujand City Court.  It is expected to last several days. 

“Attendance by representatives of the diplomatic community throughout the appeal process will send a clear signal to the Tajik authorities that violations of freedom of expression in the country will not go unnoticed,” said Katie Morris, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19.  “Tajikistan’s international partners should emphasize that Mirsaidov’s continued detention will have implications for the country’s international standing and its bilateral relationships.”

The human rights groups note that Mirsaidov’s conviction is in retaliation for his public allegations and criticism of corruption against local government officials in the Sughd province.

“The Mirsaidov case follows an established pattern in which whistleblowers, journalists, and others find themselves in the authorities’ crosshairs after uncovering corruption, crime and other violations,” said Marius Fossum, Norwegian Helsinki Committee regional representative in Central Asia.  “Democratic countries must no longer tolerate the Tajik government’s brutal crackdown on freedom of expression and should consider imposing targeted sanctions against officials complicit in blatant rights violations, such as the bogus prosecution of Khairullo Mirsaidov.”

“The international support shown thus far for press freedom in Tajikistan has been helpful and should be followed by continued pressure on the government to release Mirsaidov unconditionally,” said Gulnara Akhundova at International Media Support. “International representatives in the country should demonstrate their solidarity with Mirsaidov by attending his appeal and maintain pressure on the government throughout the appeal process to respect human rights and media freedom.”

Recall, Khairullo Mirsaidov was sentenced to 12 years in prison on July 11, 2018.  The sentence followed Mirsaidov’s conviction on charges of misappropriate of state funds, document forgery and false denunciation.  The court also imposed a 123,913 somoni fine. 

Mirsaidov maintained his innocence.  He, however, admitted that there were some shortcomings in the report on funds provided for the KVN team activities and he pleaded responsible for that.

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 Khujand-based 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.”  Human Rights Watch (HRW) Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow described Mirsaidov’s case as a “travesty of justice.”

In a note issued on July 11, the embassies of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the United States in Dushanbe and the EU Delegation to Tajikistan say, “We understand Mr. Mirsaidov has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.  We believe this sentence is extremely harsh, incomparable with the crime he was accused of.”  They note the sentence will have a negative impact on the freedom of media and expression in Tajikistan, and they “strongly urge the relevant authorities in the Republic of Tajikistan to re-consider this verdict.”

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, also expressed his concern about an excessive sentence of 12 years in a penal colony handed down to Khairullo Mirsaidov by a court in Tajikistan.  On July 11, he called on the Tajik authorities to immediately release Khairullo Mirsaidov and to ensure that journalists in Tajikistan are free to report on all matters of public interest without fear of reprisal.

UN human rights experts  condemned the sentence calling it a “clearly targeted measure against journalism and the public’s right to information.”  They said that Mirsaidov’s sentence demonstrates that “‘[the Tajik] authorities are cracking down on reporting of corruption, rather than on corruption itself.”