Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned prominent Tajik journalist Hairullo Mirsaidov's financial-crimes conviction and 12-year prison sentence.
In a July 13 statement, HRW called on countries and groups, including the United States and the European Union, to "publicly and privately press Tajik authorities to set aside" Mirsaidov's conviction.
On July 11, a court in the northern city of Khujand sentenced Mirsaidov to 12 years in prison after finding him guilty of embezzling and misusing state funds, and false reporting to police.
"If allowed to stand, this conviction and draconian sentence strike a blow to free speech and the journalistic profession in Tajikistan," said HRW Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow.
"Sadly, we now add a journalist known throughout the region for the high quality and independence of his work to the ranks of Tajikistan’s numerous other imprisoned political activists and lawyers.”
The statement also quoted Marius Fossum, Central Asia representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, as saying that "the time has come for Washington, Brussels, and all actors to examine the possibility of enacting targeted punitive measures [against Tajik authorities] unless immediate human rights improvements are made."
Mirsaidov, 39, was arrested in his native city of Khujand in December and charged with embezzlement, forgery, false reporting to police, and inciting ethnic and religious hatred.
Mirsaidov pleaded not guilty and said the case against him was retaliation for his critical reporting of government corruption.
His lawyers called the verdict "unfair," and said they would appeal it.
Mirsaidov is an independent journalist and a former correspondent of Asia-Plus and Germany's Deutsche Welle radio.
Mirsaidov is also the leader of Tajikistan's team for KVN, a stand-up comedy competition that originated among university students in the Soviet Union and is still popular in many former Soviet republics.
His case has drawn international attention, with London-based Amnesty International describing him as "a prisoner of conscience who is being punished solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression."
In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said journalists like Mirsaidov "should be recognized for the important work they do, not locked up on bogus charges."
Weeks before his arrest in December, Mirsaidov published an open letter to President Emomali Rahmon, Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmon, and Sughd region Governor Abdurahmon Qodiri asking them to crack down on allegedly corrupt officials.