The appeals court of the Khujand city court that will consider the latter’s verdict against Khairullo Mirsaidov soon should take into consideration that Mirsaidov repaired a 124,000 somoni damage caused to the Sughd regional budget, Tajik Ombudsman Zarif Alizoda told reporters in Dushanbe on July 19.

At the same time, he noted that if Mirsaidov had paid the damages before the trial, the sentence would have been more lenient. 

Asked about the reason for such a harsh sentence for Khairullo Mirsaidov, Mr. Alizoda said that such are requirements of the country’s current legislation.  

“But I know that by president’s order a working group on humanization of the penal code that was adopted in 1998 has been set up, and I hope that in the new penal code, some articles will provide for application of alternative measures to imprisonment,” the Ombudsman stressed.   

Recall, the Khujand city court sentenced Khairullo Mirsaidov to 2 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 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.

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.”

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.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) went even further in their condemnation, calling the trial a “mockery of justice” and demanding more international efforts to force Dushanbe into respecting fundamental human rights.