The Khujand city court sentenced the stand-up comedian and journalist Khairullo Mirsaidov to 12 years in prison on July 11.  The sentence followed his conviction on charges of misappropriate of state funds, document forgery and false denunciation.  The court also imposed a 123,913 somoni fine.  Mirsaidov will serve his term a high-security penal colony. 

The court's ruling was nearly identical to the prosecution's earlier demand for a 13-year prison term and a 123,913 somoni fine. 

The deputy head of the Khujand court, who presided over the trial, said in his summing-up if Mirsaidov had paid back 123,913 somoni worth of damages, he would have avoided a prison sentence. 

However, Khairullo Mirsaidov will have to pay this fine.  

In his final appeal to the court, Khairullo Mirsaidov said that he had only become active in the comedy team, which participated in a post-Soviet comedy league called KVN, for the prestige.

“I organized the KVN team so as to promote the image of Tajikistan in Russia and in other countries, and I succeeded. I did not ask for any position, rank, money for my efforts,” he said.  

Mirsaidov, who faced charges of misappropriate of state funds, document forgery and false denunciation, 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’s lawyers called the sentence called “too harsh” and said they will appeal it.  According to them, the court failed to produce proofs to support charges brought against their client.

The trial of Khairullo Mirsaidov began on June 8, 2018.

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), and document forgery (Article 340, Part 1), false denunciation (Article 346, Part 2) and incitement of national, racial, regional or religious enmity (Article 189) were officially brought against him on December 8.  The charge of incitement of national, racial, regional or religious enmity was later dropped for lack of evidence.

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 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.”