Call for release of Tajik journalist sentenced to 12 years in jail

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan (NANSMIT) condemn the well-known Tajik journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov’s 12-year prison sentence as an extremely grave threat to press freedom in Tajikistan.

Mirsaidov, who headed the national “Comedy Club” (KVN) team when arrested on 5 December 2017, was given the 12-year jail term on 11 July by a court in Khujand, the capital of the northern province of Sughd, after being convicted of misusing public funds, forgery and defamation.

He was arrested shortly after publishing an open letter accusing senior officials in Sughd province of corruption.

“Despite the official denials, the extraordinary severity of this sentence shows that this trial was politically motivated,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“We call for Khayrullo Mirsaidov’s immediate release and for an impartial review of the case on appeal. We also urge the Tajik authorities to guarantee the primacy of the law and the freedom to do investigative reporting on matters in the public interest.”

NANSMIT chairman Nuriddin Karshiboyev added: “We followed Khayrullo Mirsaidov’s trial closely and we saw how his criticism of corruption rebounded on him. This verdict has buried all hope of combatting corruption. No one will now dare to draw attention to corrupt behaviour.”

Although no secrecy was placed on the investigation, Mirsaidov’s trial was held behind closed doors and journalists had limited access to information. Mirsaidov’s lawyers insist that the prosecution failed to demonstrate his guilt on any of the three charges and they have announced their intention to appeal in the next few days.

His sentence prompted many protests but the authorities were quick to react. In a statement issued on 12 July, the prosecutor-general’s office said the media coverage and criticism “exceeded the bounds of journalistic ethics” and “could be considered as an obstacle to the process of justice.”

RSF and NANSMIT regard these veiled threats as indicative of a profound inability to tolerate criticism and as yet another attempt to deny Tajik citizens of their constitutional right to freedom of expression.

Tajikistan is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.